2 dogs die; musher airlifted from trail

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch News,Mike Campbell

Two dogs were reported dead Monday evening after a musher in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was rescued with the rest of his team along a desolate stretch of trail through the Innoko River country in the Alaska Interior.

Meanwhile, a rescue was under way to help two other teams caught between the checkpoints of Iditarod, a ghost town, and the tiny village of Shageluk. Shageluk resident Arnold Hamilton, a race trail breaker, said snowmachines had been sent out from the village and had located rookie mushers Kim Darst from New Jersey and Blake Matray from Two Rivers.

"They're going to spend the night and come over in the morning," he said. "We're glad the mushers are OK."

The rescued musher was Lou Packer, a doctor from Wasilla. His wife, Ellen, said the Iditarod had informed her that he was OK, but she had no idea what had happened. She said she had been worried about her husband for more than a day after noticing his slow progress along the trail after leaving Iditarod.

All the mushers are being monitored by the satellite GPS tracking system this year. Ellen said Lou's tracker showed him doing 0.2 mph for hours Sunday.

"I knew he had to be out front of the team (walking)," she said. She asked the Iditarod to check on Lou after he'd been gone from Iditarod for more than 24 hours. The run to Shageluk usually takes less than 12, even for slow teams.

Hamilton said the winds have been blowing hard out of the north for days in the area and the little-used trail between Iditarod and Shageluk had drifted closed beneath blowing snow. That left mushers unable to move.

"There was three mushers that we heard were in trouble," he said. "So we sent two snowmachines out. Meantime, a plane got to them and took the one musher out with, I guess, he had two dead dogs."

Iditarod officials confirmed the dog deaths and said necropsies were planned to determine how the animals died. Thin-coated huskies have been an issue of concern among Iditarod veterinarians in recent years. Concerns have been growing that such dogs might fall victim to exposure.

Anchorage Daily News