Searchers are not holding out much hope for the Florida man, Kurt Ruppert, who went missing after jumping in a wingsuit from a helicopter in a mountainous area of Washington State last Thursday. Low temperatures and inhospitable terrain mean that the chances of Ruppert still being alive if he somehow survived a hard parachute landing were slim. If his parachute failed to deploy, the chances of surviving a wingsuit-only landing in rugged terrain are almost zero.
Ruppert, who was was an experienced parachutist, was jumping along with a small group of other wingsuit enthusiasts from a helicopter at an altitude of 6,500 feet. No one saw his chute deploy, though reports are that they were not watching closely and that the helicopter pilot was occupied with his main duties.
Authorities planned to continue the search from the air on Tuesday after being hampered by poor visibility and low clouds on Monday.
Wingsuit jumpers fly using the soft-fabric wings of the wingsuit to attain some limited lift and directional control, but controlled landings are not possible due to the very high typical flight speeds—which approach 100 knots—of the suit. To return safely to the surface, wingsuit flyers rely on a parachute, which they typically deploy at a couple of thousand feet above the terrain.
There have been 52 reported wingsuit fatalities in the last decade since the wingsuit was introduced. Twenty people died last year worldwide. The amount of wingsuit activity is not known, though it is considered an extreme sport with a grave risk associated with it.