Last musher hits Nome; sixth dog death reported

RED LANTERN AWARD: Hunt comes in 52nd to earn prize for being final finisher.

March 24, 2009 

The Iditarod reached the end of the trail early Tuesday morning with a Red Lantern winner from Michigan and the most dead dogs in more than a decade.

Timothy Hunt of Marquette, Mich., crossed under the burled arch of Nome at 4:06 Tuesday morning to claim the Red Lantern award traditionally given to the race's final finisher.

Fans were on hand to cheer Hunt as he drove his 10-dog team down Front Street. He was the 52nd musher to finish the 1,000-mile run from Willow to Nome -- 15 of the starting 67 either scratched or were withdrawn -- and he did it in 15 days, 14 hours, 6 minutes and 22 seconds.

Heather Siirtola of Talkeetna beat him to the finish line by about 212 hours.

The Red Lantern ceremony was followed by the traditional extinguishing of the Widow's Lamp that hangs from the arch, a sign that all mushers and teams were safely off the trail.

But not all teams made it safely through the race.

A day earlier, race officials announced the death of a sixth dog -- the most fatalities in the race in more than a decade and possibly since 1985, when newspaper records indicate that nine dogs died.

Cirque, a 2-year-old female member of Alan Peck's team, died Monday during a flight from Shaktoolik to Nome. A necropsy showed no apparent cause of death, race officials said.

Race officials on Monday sent a plane to pick up Peck's team in Shaktoolik, where the Eagle River musher scratched. On the flight to Nome, heavy turbulence prompted the pilot to land in Golovin, where Cirque was found dead, according to a report from race marshal Mark Nordman.

The dogs were in good health when loaded onto the plane, Nordman reported.

Though records are sketchy, it appears you have to go back to 1985 to find a deadlier year for Iditarod dogs. Nine animals reportedly died in that race, including a member of the Susan Butcher team stomped by a moose less than 100 miles into the race, forcing Butcher to scratch and opening the door for Libby Riddles to become the first woman to win the race.

Five died in the 1997 race, a number matched Friday when a dog in Rick Larson's team died on the trail between Elim and White Mountain. The day before, Warren Palfrey lost a dog about an hour from Nome.

Two dogs in Lou Packer's team died when the team got caught in howling winds and minus-45 temperatures for more than a day. Packer said he thinks the animals froze to death.

The first dog died early in the race. Victor, a member of Jeff Holt's team, died just out of Rainy Pass.

All that prompted an outcry this week from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which on Monday asked the Alaska State Troopers to launch an investigation to see if any mushers with dead dogs should be charged with animal cruelty.

A trooper spokesman, however, said the state law PETA referenced in its letter generally doesn't apply to sled dog races.


Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4309.

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