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Mount Marathon runner who vanished fading into background

Craig Medred
Loren Holmes photo

As with so many stories that burn brightly in the seconds-long attention span of the public eye, the story of Michael LeMaitre faded away with a barely a whisper.

Some reading this now might not even remember that LeMaitre was the focal point of a massive search on Seward's Mount Marathon earlier this month. The 66-year-old Anchorage man ran the Mount Marathon race on July 4 when he simply vanished.

Race volunteers reported seeing him just 200 feet below Race Point, the turnaround for the 5-kilometer race up and down a 3,022-foot peak. Volunteers reported that LeMaitre, the last of the runners in the race, said he was going on to the turn and would be back down shortly. He was never seen again.

Searchers over the course of the next several days found no sight of him. Search dogs detected no scent of him. Sophisticated thermal-imaging equipment employed by Alaska National Guard helicopters hovering above the mountain registered no hint of human body heat.

On July 7, a Saturday, the Alaska State Troopers terminated the official search, but volunteers kept looking. Many expressed their commitment to find LeMaitre. The Seward Fire Department stepped in to coordinate search efforts. Dozens of people, possibly hundreds, went to Seward to help look for LeMaitre on the weekend after the troopers gave up.

All of them, too, came up empty handed. The media, by then, had been long gone onto other stories. LeMaitre was, sadly, old news. The number of people looking for him began to slow to a trickle. And finally, on Saturday of this week -- 10 days after LeMaitre's disappearance - - the Seward Fire Department announced it, too, was officially giving up. The notice appeared in the Seward City News, an online publication, on Sunday.

"Eight searchers were assigned two areas of interest Saturday,'' the press release said in part. "The results were negative. Due to weather conditions in Seward, deteriorating conditions on Mount Marathon and depleting resources; the Seward Fire Department is suspending its search operations. Small search teams will be sent on the mountain when conditions improve and substantial evidence develops.''

Issued by Fire Chief David Squires at 2:50 p.m. on Saturday, it thanks the many who searched or showed up in Seward to help support searchers. Now only time will tell whether LeMaitre is found or joins the many gone lost forever in the 49th state.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com