Alaska man missing after July 4 mountain footrace

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 06, 2012 5:08 PM
Alaska man missing after July 4 mountain footrace

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Rescuers scrambled across rough Alaska terrain on Friday looking for a man who vanished while competing in a grueling Independence Day mountain footrace in which he was last seen about 200 yards from the race's 3,022-foot summit.

Michael LeMaitre of Anchorage was reported missing after he failed to finish Wednesday's Mount Marathon Race in Seward, an Alaska July 4 tradition that is billed by local officials as the nation's second-oldest footrace, Alaska State Troopers said.

One of the nation's most famous mountain races, it requires runners to climb up and down 3,022 feet on a steep trail that averages 38 degrees in pitch. Racers scramble up and down cliffs, through loose mountain scree and down a mountain creek.

LeMaitre, 66, had last been seen at about 6 p.m. on Wednesday during the race, which has never seen a race fatality although competitors have suffered broken bones, heat stroke and other injuries.

On Friday, around 30 to 40 ground searchers, rescue dogs and a helicopter pilot searched for LeMaitre after steady rain and cloudy conditions hampered efforts on Thursday, especially at higher-elevation points, trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said.

"Of course, the terrain is steep and rocky," she said in an email. "They were dealing with rock slides yesterday - and we're talking some with boulders."

The race is relatively short, just a little over three miles. LeMaitre, a first-time competitor, lagged far behind when he was last seen, nearing the summit roughly three hours after the men's race began.

Top racers include accomplished cross-country skiers, including several former and current U.S. Ski Team members. Kikkan Randall, this year's World Cup ski sprint champion, won last year's race but did not compete this year.

This year's men's winner, Matthew Novakovich, finished in 44 minutes and seven seconds. This year's women's winner, U.S. Ski Team member Holly Brooks, finished in 51 minutes and 43 seconds.

(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and M.D. Golan)