Search under way for Mount Marathon runner

Race rookie was last seen three hours into 3-mile race.

Anchorage Daily NewsJuly 5, 2012 

More than 20 searchers and an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter spent much of Thursday hunting for a 66-year-old man who vanished while participating in the grueling Mount Marathon race in Seward. Race officials last saw Michael LeMaitre at roughly 6 p.m. Wednesday, about 200 yards from the mountaintop, said Alaska State Troopers Capt. Andy Greenstreet. That was three hours into the 3-mile race.

LeMaitre has not been seen since. As the search continued Thursday night, he had been missing more than 24 hours.

A grandfather of two with another grandchild on the way, LeMaitre is a longtime Alaskan who savors a challenge but had never climbed the 3,022-foot mountain, said his son, Jon LeMaitre.

"The hard part is the waiting. Waiting for answers. Information, details. Something to point us in the right direction," Jon LeMaitre said. He has joined other family members in Seward.

LeMaitre's family reported him missing to the Seward police and fire departments at about 9 p.m., troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. A search team -- including a state trooper who had completed the race earlier in the day -- found no sign of LeMaitre on the course.

A state Public Safety Department helicopter began searching the area at 2:18 a.m., Peters said. The effort expanded Thursday to include search-and-rescue dogs and an Alaska Air National Guard Pave Hawk helicopter.

By early afternoon, there were 16 to 20 people scouring the mountain, plus another five to seven members of the Alaska Rescue Mountain Group, Greenstreet said. "We're focusing on the trail and then branching out from there."

LeMaitre is a civilian employee at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, said Anchorage Assemblyman Dick Traini, a friend and former co-worker. Traini, who recently retired, held the same community resource officer job as LeMaitre and the pair worked a few cubicles apart. The work involves helping people leaving the military build resumes and plan for their financial future.

LeMaitre had been looking forward to the annual Fourth of July race. A flagship tourist event and a source of civic pride for the Kenai Peninsula city of 2,700, it's also a famously treacherous course. Racers begin in downtown Seward before charging and scrambling up the mountain and back.

LeMaitre has lived in Alaska most of his adult life and is an active hiker and camper, his son said. "He's never been afraid of a challenge."

LeMaitre was not planning on running the race course and instead focused on simply completing the event, Jon LeMaitre said. "We had actually talked about if he had got up there and it was harder than he had anticipated, he would take his time and take it easy and not rush himself."

To reduce the environmental impact on the trail and prevent injuries caused by crowding, organizers limit the number of people who can participate each year. Bibs are available for up to 375 men, 375 women and 250 junior racers, according to the website of the Seward Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event. Some, like Michael LeMaitre, win entry through a lottery.

"He's always known about it," Jon LeMaitre said. "We went fishing out in Seward a lot growing up as kids. So I think it could have just been something that was on his mind."

The men's race started at 3 p.m. in a light rain Wednesday.

The 327 finishers in the men's field completed the course in an average time of about one hour and 16 minutes, according to standings posted at onlineraceresults.com.

That LeMaitre had not reached the halfway point three hours into the event was likely a sign he was struggling, said Greenstreet, the troopers captain.

Another runner, 41-year-old Matthew Kenney of Anchorage, was seriously injured when he fell descending the cliffs at the mountain's base, according to a witness and a race official. One injury was reported in the junior race and another in the women's race, said Cindy Clock, Chamber of Commerce director. She said she did not know the names of those injured.

The weather on the course had been rainy and foggy during the search, Peters said.

LeMaitre had not been found as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday. He was last seen wearing black running shorts and a black T-shirt.

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