Search For Missing Runner Resumes

By Heidi Zemach for SCN

Friday July 6 Mt Marathon Rescue Briefing at Seward Fire Department

The search resumes this morning (Friday) on Mount Marathon for Michael LeMaitre, age 66, of Anchorage, who never returned from Wednesday’s men’s race, and was reported missing by family members. Today’s search follows an extensive search late Wednesday evening and all day Thursday. Rescue crews were pulled from the mountain at 7 p.m.,Thursday night. They were briefed again this morning on the search strategy for today.

Plans are to begin by dropping in a three-dog search team by helicopter to search along the ridge lines on the North, the same vector searchers believe LeMaitre would have started down. Then, rescue teams would go up the mountain, sweeping in from the roads below, along the Eastern boundary, and also providing coverage on the Northeast side of the mountain. The multi-agency search operation taking place involves Alaska State Troopers, Mountain Rescue Group, of Anchorage, the Bear Creek and Seward Volunteer Fire Departments. They have had several trooper helicopters, and a military helo with heat sensing technology.

At 8:00 am, Doug Knapp, of Mountain Rescue Group of Anchorage, briefed a tired, determined-looking crowd of about 60 in Seward Fire Hall. There were fire department personnel, local runners and other interested parties. Meanwhile citizens stopped by with muffins for the searchers. Volunteers with experience on the mountain or this type of rescue, can show up at the Seward Fire Department. The Alaska State Troopers’ Press Office is handling all media inquiries.



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Lemaitre was last seen by race officials approximately 200 yards from the top of the mountain (heading up) at approximately five p.m. He was dressed in black running shorts and a black T-shirt. He is not the best athlete, had never been on Mount Marathon before, and was likely “dog tired” when he got up to the turning point, and there was no one there to tell him exactly where to turn, said Knapp. He probably turned toward the North along some vector, and started down, he said. This morning the dogs were to be dropped on that end, and search first from there along the ridge lines, before the crews of people would be sent in. The teams would sweep in from below, up the roads, along the Eastern boundary, and also would provide coverage on the Northeast side of the mountain. Later, in the day, if a helicopter is available (two other searches were taking place across Alaska), they planned to insert technical teams, Knapp said.

The number one objective today, Knapp said, was the safety of the searchers. “One person is in bad danger, but it just gets worse if more people are.” If the mountain gets too dangerous, they will have to stop the search, he said. “The number two objective is to locate Michael today and get everybody safely out of the field,” Knapp continued.

Meanwhile, the weather forecast is calling for lows in the 50s to the low 60s, with scattered showers and rain today and tomorrow. Safety issues are numerous as it involves helicopters, lots of steep terrain, a high mud level, risks of slipping and falling, rushing creeks. There’s also a risk of hypothermia in these muddy, wet conditions, so rescue crews should wear appropriate clothing, he said. To make things worse, yesterday rescuers saw a landslide down a steep gulch, others saw two black bears, and they believe more black bears and some brown bears may also be on the mountain. Finally, there’s the ubiquitous Devils Club.

Do not assume LeMaitre is up and walking around, Knapp said. His best move would have been to crawl under deep spruce trees in the shadows and hole up where it would be hard for rescuers to find him. His energy would be gone, his temperature would be dropping, and his voice would not carry more than two feet, so he’s a tough subject to find, Knapp said.

He asked any searchers who find potential clues such as clothing, footprints, or who hears yelling to report them by radio to central command, and mark their location. If they find his body, they are to issue a special code whereupon troopers would take over the case from there. Otherwise, say “medical emergency,” which we are all still hoping for, Knapp said.

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6 Comments

  1. Amanda Burg says:

    So despite knowing there was an older gentleman still heading up in the race, everyone up top just left without bothering to make sure he made it safely? I had assumed he got off course and never made it to the timing mat, but it sounds like he may have made it up there and found nothing/ no one. I realize the official timing has a cutoff, but human decency dictates watching out for your fellow man. He shouldn’t have gone up there like that when it was his first time, but certainly someone could have helped this man have a safe time.

  2. I agree race officials need to keep a presence until all racers have completed the course. I noticed I had left the downtown finish line area around 2:45 went back a litte around 6:00 pm and a male runner came running down the street. He looked beat and was not the male runner in question that is missing in the pictures.

    So there where at least 2 that did not finish within the time frame established by the race officials. Since everything was already stripped down and cleaned up in the area.

  3. What I don’t understand is why there were no race officials still up on the mountain. If the official cut-off time is three hours, it’s reasonable to assume that racers could make the summit at around two hours and still finish within the limit, since the downhill portion is quite a bit faster than the uphill slog.
    Also, why were there no race sweepers? Most endurance events (marathons, ultra-racers) have sweepers follow the trail to ensure all racers are accounted for. Or at least they check all race bib numbers as they finish, and also at the halfway mark.
    And was the halfway/summit timing mat removed? Does anyone even know if LeMaitre knew where to stop and turn around? If he had never been on the mountain before, he could have kept heading upward, especially in the foggy/misty conditions.
    Lastly, I don’t understand why the race course isn’t marked. What purpose does this serve? The lead runners know the course and the middle-of-the-packers, and even moderate back-of-the-packers, simply follow those in front of them. It’s those way in the back, those with the least experience, who are harmed by the unmarked course, since there’s a good chance no other racers will be in sight. And these are the racers who need the most direction, and the most help.
    Marathons have an official cut-off time, yet they don’t immediately disband the finish line after that time and they do make sure to account for all racers.
    My prayers go out to LeMaitre and his family. Hopefully you’re out there curled under a spruce tree somewhere, dude. Hopefully.

  4. a song by CAKE comes to mind:

    “As they speed thru the finish the flags go down.
    The fans get up, and get out of town.
    The arena is empty except for one man,
    Still driving and striving as fast as he can

    The sun has gone down and the moon has come up, And long ago somebody left with the cup”

  5. Dispite what people think there is a man missing in a valley which is nick named bear alley, I hope thye find him and the family can have some closure. Thanks to all that are helping look for him. Think someday this could be you.

  6. John Weddleton says:

    I was at the top of the mountain helping hand out water to the racers. As we neared 6pm, the timers were packing up and the water crew was waiting for a helicopter. I had the impression that no one knew for sure, but they expected that one more racer might still be on the way up. I headed down the usual down trail passing a couple racers who seemed in okay condition. I would have missed anyone climbing the top section though I took a look before I headed down. I saw no climbers until just below the intersection of the down trail and the up trail. A man who is possibly the missing racer was sitting on the trail, clearly pooped. There was another man there, too. He was wearing bright orange so I think he was connected with the race. I let the racer know that the race was over and they were packing up at the top. He said he was determined to go to the top and asked where it was. I pointed straight up and suggested he head on down instead. He was determined to keep going. When I continued down, he was still sitting there. I hope he is okay.