By Heidi Zemach for SCN
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.
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.