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Missing sky diver presumed dead in Washington state

January 08, 2013|By Andrew Khouri

For days, hundreds of rescuers spanned across nine square miles on a rugged mountain east of Seattle, trudging through dense vegetation while calling Kurt Ruppert’s name -- all with the hope of finding the 29-year-old sky diver alive.

No response came.

Authorities now say Ruppert is presumed dead -- maybe a victim of the sharp cold nights, or some kind of problem during the 6,500-foot fall from the helicopter he jumped out of on Thursday. Ruppert was wearing a special winged suit at the time that allows sky divers to glide long distances before deploying a parachute.

“Unfortunately, the longer the search goes on -- the less it is likely he survived,” Sgt. Cindi West of the King County Sheriff's Office told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.

On Sunday night, authorities called off their ground search on Mt. Si and, for several days now, heavy fog has grounded an aerial search. West said when the fog lifts, authorities will again send a helicopter out.

“We have pretty much exhausted the area we can reach on foot,” West told the Los Angeles Times.

Ruppert, of Lake City, Fla., was reported missing after he jumped from a helicopter above the Cascade Mountains. Two of Ruppert’s fellow sky divers waited for him at a landing area, but he never arrived. They didn’t see Ruppert jump, and it is unknown if his parachute deployed.

On Saturday, authorities narrowed their search to a quarter square mile on Mt. Si -- about 40 miles east of Seattle. They used the helicopter’s flight pattern and Ruppert’s cellphone signal from around the time of the jump to focus their search. His cellphone was either turned off or is no longer working, West said.

Authorities had hoped Ruppert was possibly stuck in a tree, his parachute tangled. But even if his chute deployed, Ruppert was unprepared for the cold when he jumped out of the sky, West said.

Since he disappeared, temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s around Mt. Si.

“With the cold nights, it’s probably likely that he did not survive,” he said.

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