A head injury took Eureka musher Brent Sass out of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, casting a somber mood Sunday in a race known for its camaraderie among competitors.
Sass, who led the 1,000-mile race at the midway point, was airlifted to a hospital in
Whitehorse, Yukon, where he was treated and released. A report on his kennel's Facebook page said he was resting and doing well Sunday night.
Sass' departure from the race left a clear path to victory for defending champion Allen Moore, who had been dueling with Sass for the lead throughout Saturday and overnight Sunday.
"I think we're all bummed, severely," 2012 Quest champion Hugh Neff, who helped lead Sass' team to a checkpoint after Sass was injured, told the Whitehorse Star.
"I'm in shock. I think we all are in shock still. I don't even know what happened. (Sass) somehow wiped out and hit his head, I think, on the ground."
Sass fell off his sled during the 70-mile run from Carmacks to Braeburn, race officials said. He was about 12 miles from Braeburn.
What happened next was pure Quest.
Moore and Neff altered their own race plans either to help Sass or to show respect for a veteran musher who on numerous occasions has performed rescue missions on the trail between Fairbanks and Whitehorse.
And a cheering crowd gathered to greet Sass' team, driven by race judge Scott Smith, was quite a moving moment."
As for Moore, he delayed his departure from Braeburn, the race's final checkpoint, so he could be there when Canadian Rangers delivered Sass via snowmachine.
With the clock ticking in a race in which Moore and Sass were challenging the speed record, Moore spent an extra two hours before leaving Braeburn with a team of 11 dogs. It's the first time in three years he left the checkpoint with an easy victory in sight.
"It feels weird not to race out of here," he said, according to a Quest report.
Moore lost the 2012 race to Neff by 26 seconds and beat Neff by less than two hours a year ago. Sass placed third and was challenging for his first victory until Sunday's accident.
Moore left Braeburn at 3:28 p.m. Alaska time, with the finish line about 85 miles away in Takhini Hot Springs. The race is finishing several miles north of the usual Yukon River finish in Whitehorse because of thin ice on the river.
Neff reached Braeburn 15 minute before Moore left, at 3:13 p.m., driving a team of eight and leading the way for Sass' team.
Neff's journey from Pelly Crossing was interrupted by about two hours when he came upon the scene of Sass' accident.
By the time he got there, Rangers had carted off Sass but one had remained to look after the dogs.
According to a report by the Whitehorse Star, Neff took two bags of thawed meat from his sled and fed it to Sass' dogs.
He told the Star that Sass' dogs wouldn't budge with Smith on the runners, so Neff led the way over the last 12 miles.
"The funny thing is, Brent's the one who's usually doing the saving," Neff told the Whitehorse Star. "What goes around, comes around. I'm just glad I was there to be there to help."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News