On the wet, cold slopes of Mount Marathon above the coastal village of Seward, 66-year-old Michael LeMaitre of Anchorage has now been missing for 24 hours. He was last seen on the Fourth of July a couple hundred feet below the summit of the 3,022-foot peak where runners in the Seward Mount Marathon race top out and turn back downhill, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Given that, it would be almost impossible to disappear on the barren, windswept flanks of the mountain within 200 yards of the summit. Searchers assume he made it up and over, and that something happened on the downslope of the mountain. He could have wandered off the trail and gotten lost. Or, as some runners who were on the mountain for the race theorize, he could have fallen through a crack in a snowfield near the summit and slipped beneath the snow, out of sight.
LeMaitre was wearing only black shorts and T-shirt when last seen. After his family reported him missing, an Alaska State Trooper familiar with the route of the state's most famous race went up the mountain and found no sign of LeMaitre. A search for the missing man was quickly organized, but no sign of him was found. The search was expanded and enlarged to cover other possible routes off the mountain on Thursday, without success.
Other routes down
Seward is a community of 3,000 some 125 miles south of Alaska's largest city. It is home to the Mount Marathon competition, believed to be the second oldest foot race in America, and one of the biggest Fourth of July parties in Alaska. LeMaitre was in Seward to enjoy both.
Sam Young, a Seward runner and former champion intimately familiar with Mount Marathon, said hikers have come down from the mountain on the south, or Lowell Creek, side and gotten lost in the past. Troopers reported the search was expanding into that area and along the mountain to the north, where various trails lead down.
Specialists with the 210th Rescue Squadron had been called in to help. The HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters flown by the squadron are equipped with FLIR, a ground-searching system that uses infrared technology to detect warm objects. It can identify people by body heat -- especially against cool surfaces. Temperatures on the mountain were near 50 degrees Thursday afternoon and predicted to drop to near 40 overnight, raising worries about LeMaitre falling victim to hypothermia if he remains alive on the mountain.
Race officials weren't talking about it.
Another racer seriously injured
The 85-year-old race has never suffered a fatality, but there have been serious injuries. One of those came this year when well-known Anchorage mountain runner Matthew Kenney, 41, fell from a cliff on the descent from the top of the mountain. Witnesses said he appeared to slip above a cliff near where the race trail rejoins Seward city streets and then bounced like a rag doll down the rocks.
Kenney had to be medevaced from Seward and was reported by friends to be unconscious in an Anchorage hospital. It was unclear whether that was due to his injures or whether doctors had induced a coma to help protect him from brain injury.
"He took a hell of a fall,'' said Young, a friend of Kenney's. "There was a lot of stuff that happened to him.''
Along with suffering head injuries, Kinney was reported to have seriously broken his leg. Many in the tight-knit Alaska running community were worrying about his health. Brad Precosky of Alaska Mountain Runners said the group hoped to post updates on his condition on the group's Facebook page as information becomes available.
A mountain runner and Mount Marathon champion himself, Precosky was on the Seward Highway on his way back to Anchorage Thursday morning. He admitted to being worried about the fate of LeMaitre.
"It was wet,'' he said. "It rained all night'' in Seward. Someone caught out in such conditions would be in a life-threatening situation.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com