A King County Sheriff's Office helicopter is seen during the search on Thursday evening.
Photo courtesy KOMO
PALATKA, Fla. -- Rescue crews are spending their third straight day searching the rugged Cascade foothills east of Seattle for a Lake City, Florida skydiver who vanished during a jump.
Kurt Ruppert Jr., 29, was last seen Thursday afternoon. His friends in Palataka, where they said he frequently skydived, are optimistic he will be found alive.
The King County Sheriff's Office said Ruppert had on a "winged suit" when he jumped out of a helicopter at 6,500 feet near the top of Mt. Si in Washington State.
Investigators said his two friends waiting for him in the landing zone had their line of sight blocked so they did not see him jump and don't know if his parachute deployed.
Rob Meier described the ordeal as, "Just a kick to the stomach. We know Kurt. We know he is very adventurous. We know he has survival skills. He works on cell towers I believe, so we've all said if anyone could pull it out, he could."
Former Jags defensive tackle Rob Meier said Ruppert taught him how to "wing suit". It's a special outfit that allows skydivers to travel further distances and have a longer free fall.
Art Shaffer, owner of Skydive Palatka said, "sometimes things happen outside of what we can control, and I know he wouldn't have done anything outlandish. Obviously, something happened that was unexpected."
Ruppert's friends said he is a very experienced skydiver having done more than a thousand jumps including many of them at Skydive Palatka.
"We jumped New Year's Eve at midnight. He got up and hung out by the fire and left on Tuesday," said Shaffer.
While Ruppert's friends in Palatka continue to skydive, in between jumps they are staying close to their phones, hoping to hear good news.
Rescue crews say they have been able to narrow down the search area at the Mt. Si trailhead using cell phone ping data from Ruppert's phone the day of the jump and the helicopter's flight pattern.
On Saturday, more than 130 volunteers from 19 agencies -- plus search dogs -- continued to scour the area in what they are calling a rescue mission.
Despite temperatures dipping into to the 30s, police believe Ruppert was wearing thermals under his winged suit and had a knife with him.
Shaffer, "I'm pretty sure he's out there and maybe just can't walk, but he's a strong guy -- pretty resilient and resourceful -- so I'm pretty sure he's still alive. We just have to find him."
Crews plan to search until dark Saturday and then stop for the night.
First Coast News