After a storm hit the area on Friday, six Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race mushers — rookies Bridgett Watkins, Gerhardt Thiart, Sean Williams, Sebastien Dos Santos Borges and KattiJo Deeter and veteran Jeff Deeter — were taken off the trail and scratched near the end of the race. Two of the mushers, Watkins and Thiart, were injured.
Thiart, originally from South Africa and more recently Michigan, activated his emergency beacon Friday morning while going over the Topkok Hills because of a ground storm with high winds, according to a statement from the Iditarod.
Iditarod officials said Edward Stang of Council found Thiart and his dog team. Thiart had injured his leg, Iditarod officials said.
Stang, who was on a snowmachine, helped get Thiart to White Mountain, where the musher was taken in a helicopter to Nome and was being evaluated Friday night.
Also on Friday morning, Fairbanks musher and rookie Bridgett Watkins called a family member who was in Nome and asked for help to get off the trail. According to the Iditarod, White Mountain search and rescue was notified and Watkins’ husband left from Nome with four Nome residents on a snowmachine and found her.
She was taken to White Mountain, evaluated at a health clinic there, and then transported to Nome by plane. She was with her family Friday evening.
In a social media post Friday, Watkins’ kennel said “A mixture of bad weather, bad trail conditions, and bad luck kept her and her fellow rookie stalled on the trail 15 miles out of the White Mountain checkpoint. We will have the full details of the story later, but both Bridgett and Gerhardt suffered injuries and were assisted off the trail and to Nome.”
“She was flown here from White Mountain, has been checked by medical staff, and though she has some cold exposure and a broken clavicle, still has a radiant smile. Her dogs were taken care of by vets who were sent out with the rescue team and all are doing well,” the post said.
A little over a month before the race began in early February, a moose attacked Watkins’ team for more than an hour during a training run injuring four of her dogs, The Associated Press reported.
Later on Friday evening, race officials said rookie Chugiak musher Sean Williams had also scratched after being transported by snow machine to the White Mountain checkpoint “due to deteriorating weather conditions.”
“Williams made the decision to scratch in the best interest of his race team,” Iditarod officials said in a statement.
On Saturday, race officials said three more mushers had scratched and needed assistance between White Mountain and Safety after encountering Friday’s storm: Dos Santos Borges of Chazey-Bons, France, and Fairbanks mushing couple KattiJo Deeter and Jeff Deeter.
“All three teams received snowmachine assistance by White Mountain search and rescue to the Nome Kennel Club shelter cabin, where they stayed until improved weather conditions allowed for Iditarod volunteers to assist with transporting the mushers and their teams to Nome,” officials said in a written statement. “The mushers have been in direct communication with the race marshal while at the shelter cabin and the race teams are reportedly in good health.”
Winds at White Mountain had been gusting at 30 to 35 miles per hour since Friday morning, said Kerrie Simmons, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
All dog teams involved were taken to Nome or White Mountain to be evaluated by veterinarians, race officials said.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated, based on information from Alaska State Troopers, that troopers were notified of a musher who had activated an SOS feature on a satellite device and that musher was later rescued by a family member. However, according to a later release by Iditarod officials, Thiart activated his beacon, while Watkins was rescued by the family member.