Missing racer not found
Michael LeMaitre starts the Men’s Mount Marathon Race on July 4. He was last seen approaching the top of the mountain.
The 4th of July began rainy and cool with Mount Marathon shrouded in clouds. The day ended with a runner missing on the mountain.
Michael LeMaitre went up the mountain with the rest of the Mount Marathon Race runners and was seen approaching the top about three hours later, but has not been seen since. In the 85 years of the race, he is the first to go missing during the race.
After 72 hours of searching, LeMaitre was not found by Saturday night and Alaska State Troopers suspended their organized search efforts. Seward Fire Department, which assists about a half dozen people off the mountain each year, continues to search.
LeMaitre, 66 of Anchorage, started the 3.5-mile race at 3 p.m. and was last seen by a race timer at around 6 p.m ., over two hours after the first runner crossed the finish line, on his way up at about 200 feet short of the peak. He was wearing black shorts and T-shirt, white shoes, red and black gloves, a black headband and bib 548. He was reported to have poor eyesight and was not wearing glasses.
A race committee member spoke with LeMaitre’s wife Peggy at approximately 6:20 p.m. and asked her to wait at the base of the mountain race course and notify race officials if he had not returned in an hour. Peggy LeMaitre notified race officials by 8 p.m. that he had not returned and they contacted Seward Police dispatch.
Seward Fire Department immediately initiated a search in the wet, muddy and slippery conditions. Local runners, hikers and climbers began searching by 9 p.m. and continued until dark. “We had hundreds of years of experience on the mountain up there right away,” said Deputy Fire Chief Eddie Athey on Tuesday.
Alaska State Troopers arrived and deployed the Helo-1 helicopter by 2:20 a.m. on July 5 to fly over the mountain for the search.
Race committee members helped organize volunteers to join the search by the early hours of July 5. Several of the committee members remained with the family at SFD through the night.
July 5 also began rainy and cool with clouds covering the mountain, and a dusting of snow on nearby peaks. With the sound of a helicopter making passes back and forth over the mountain in the wee hours, Sewardites knew something was wrong.
A trooper familiar with the mountain and who ran the race the day before climbed the mountain in search of LeMaitre.
The Air National Guard UH-60 Pave Hawk, with pararescue members and equipment to detect body heat, also scoured the mountain from the air.
For three days ground searchers combed the scree-covered upper mountain, the brushy mid section and the forested lower mountain, and the areas surrounding the mountain. The high steep cliffs of the mountain and surrounding area were searched by experienced climbers outfitted with mountain climbing gear. “We checked every blade of grass, turned over every rock and looked behind every tree on that mountain,” said Athey.
On Saturday Alaska Wildlife Troopers’ R-44 helicopter flew a trooper with a camera to take high-resolution photos of the steep cliffs on the backside of the mountain to be analyzed for signs of LeMaitre. None were found.
By Saturday the effort included 65 searchers from Seward Police and Fire departments, Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, Nordic Ski Patrol, Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs, National Park Service, Air National Guard, Seward residents, and Mount Marathon racers who returned to Seward to help with the search. Staging the search efforts was at Seward Fire Department and by the Civil Air Patrol at Seward Airport.
Weather on the mountain for the three days following LeMaitre’s disappearance was chilly and wet — conditions that can bring on hypothermia. At sea level the minimum temperatures were 46 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. On the mountain it would be about 10 degrees cooler. Around 1.3 inches of rain fell from July 4-7. With hypothermia the body’s core temperature drops and confusion sets in.
Saturday night, after more than three days of searching, troopers reported, “At approximately 9 p.m. AST met with the LeMaitre family and informed them that AST was suspending the organized search efforts for missing Mount Marathon runner Michael LeMaitre. All search efforts to date have failed to find any clues to indicate the location LeMaitre or a direction of travel.”
In the course of the effort six searchers were rendered unable to continue searching due injuries. “Mostly we saw fatigue, dizziness and achiness,” said Athey. In a search like this, “We become concerned about having to rescue a rescuer,” he said.
Seward Fire Department and volunteers rested on Sunday.
After recuperating and reassessing, SFD resumed search efforts on Monday and issued an announcement that they would continue to search.
LeMaitre was running the grueling race for the first time and had gained entry through the lottery. According to the Anchorage Daily News LeMaitre is a civilian employee at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson where his work is helping people leaving military service prepare for new work and planning their future. He has lived in Alaska most of his adult life along with his wife and children, and is an active camper and hiker. He was looking forward to the race and planned to complete the course.
Seward Chamber of Commerce Director Cindy Clock told The LOG that the LeMaitre family had expressed gratitude to the chamber and community for the display of warmth, and for taking care of food and lodging needs while they were in Seward.
At least three racers were assisted off the mountain and taken to Providence Seward Medical Center during the races.
At 10:32 a.m. Seward Volunteer Fire Department ambulance was called for a junior racer who fell at the chute.
A fire officer transported a woman runner to the hospital for a possible broken wrist at 12:28 p.m..
Racer Penny Assman, 34 of Salt Lake City, fell off a cliff and sustained injuries. Assman’s injuries included a lacerated liver, broken ribs, a gash on her forehead, and many scrapes and bruises, according to a post by her boyfriend on sewardcitynews.com. The first time racer was flown to Anchorage for treatment. Assman is a Medevac helicopter pilot and avid mountain runner. She was released from the hospital Tuesday.
Veteran Mount Marathon racer Matthew Kenney tumbled down the cliffs at the mountain’s base and incurred a broken skull, broken leg and other injuries, according to Anchorage Daily News. At press time on Tuesday he remained unconscious at Alaska Regional Hospital.
A local runner, who was not entered in the race, decided to run the jeep trail (north of the race trail) on the mountain during the races. While running the trail he heard someone calling, “Help me!” He found one of the women racers and assisted her back to the race course.
The Mount Marathon Race Committee, a part of Seward Chamber of Commerce, deploys about 300 volunteers for the races, many of them medical and rescue volunteers. The safety rules are strict and not following the rules disqualifies a runner.
Penny Assman falls from a cliff along the trail during the Women’s Mount Marathon Race.
“Safety of the runners is the number one priority for the organizers of the Mount Marathon Race. The required safety meeting the night prior to the race provides information integral to runners’ success. During that meeting, as well as within the text of the rookie letter sent during the application process, runners are told that if they have never been up Mount Marathon, they should not make the race their first trip,” wrote Chamber Director Cindy Clock in a press release Monday.
Clock said Tuesday that the Mount Marathon Race Committee was involved in the search for LeMaitre and had not convened to assess this year’s race.