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New details emerge in disappearance of Mount Marathon racer

Craig Medred

The Seward Chamber of Commerce on Monday issued a detailed account of its version of how Mount Marathon Race officials were involved in the disappearance of 66-year-old Michael LeMaitre on July Fourth. LeMaitre was last seen near the 3,022-foot top of the Mount Marathon course. He has not been seen since and Alaska State Troopers on Saturday called off what had been an exhaustive search.

LeMaitre is presumed by most to have died of hypothermia or other injuries. Some volunteer search efforts for him continue.

2007 Oregon study of more than 1,000 searches involving more than 1,500 people over the course of six years concluded that after 51 hours had passed there was only a 1 percent chance of finding the lost individual -- but added that "there were a small but important number of people found alive after this time. Thus a search manager might use a cut-off of two to three days for more searches, but consider other factors and extend the search in some circumstances." The study noted that terrain, whether mountainous or flat, did not appear to be a factor influencing survival. Age, however, was a factor, according to the study: "Persons older than 60 years, or searches conducted in the months May through October (in Oregon) were associated with a decreased likelihood of survival."

The Seward Chamber statement included some new information about what happened near the top of the race course Wednesday.

It had been known a race timer met LeMaitre there, about 200 feet below the summit, and went on down as the elderly man continued up. The latest statement discloses that the timer was part of a crew of timers who headed down because the cut-off for officially finishing the race passed half an hour earlier. The statement neither identifies the "lead timer" nor details how many people were in the "crew."

It does outline the lead timer's 15 years of experience on the mountain; his conclusion LeMaitre did not need any assistance; and the fact the crew had been on the mountain a long time. Race day was cold and wet, and 10 hours was a long time to be up there, various Mount Marathon runners have observed.

The statement says the timer reported LeMaitre's position to race officials when he reached the bottom of the mountain at 6:20 p.m. According to the statement, he told LeMaitre's wife to expect him shortly, but to notify race officials if he was not back within an hour and a half. She notified them her husband was missing about an hour and forty minutes later.

The statement stresses the race's interest in safety, but makes no mention of Mount Marathon racer Matt Kenney, who remains hospitalized in Anchorage with a traumatic brain injury due to injuries from a fall off a cliff during the race. The cliff from which he fell has been the scene of a number of serious injuries in recent years. 

Here is a portion of the statement: 

The Seward Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors would like to express their continued concern over the disappearance of Mount Marathon Race runner, Michael LeMaitre, during the 2012 event. Our sympathy goes out to his family and friends, along with our continued hope that he will be found. We would also like to assure the community that every effort has been made to find Mr. LeMaitre.

Hundreds of volunteers have been involved in the rescue operation, including the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, Nordic Ski Patrol, Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs, Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department, National Park Service, Seward Police and Fire Departments, the Air National Guard, Alaska State Troopers and many Seward residents, as well as racers who returned to Seward to help with the search. The gratitude for the support from the community in this event cannot be stressed enough.

The Mount Marathon Race is an event that has grown over 85 years to become a world-class mountain race. The rules and safety precautions have evolved with the race to become what is today -- a well-organized event with over 300 volunteers participating in its operation. The Mount Marathon race committee is a group of seven individuals, both Seward residents and non-residents, who volunteer their vast experience and history with the race performance as well as production.

Along with input from the Seward Police and Fire Departments, city officials and medical personnel, they continue to implement systems to improve the safety of the race. They operate within the structure of the Seward Chamber of Commerce, and have full support from its Board of Directors.

While we continue to have the rescue of Mr. LeMaitre as our number-one priority, we would like to assure the community that the race committee and race volunteers communicated with Mr. Le Maitre’s family and rescue personnel, and participated in the search and rescue operation through the following clarifications:

The race-timing crew at the top of the mountain broke down the timing equipment at 5:30 p.m., the finish-time limit for the men’s race. The crew began their descent of the mountain at 5:45 p.m., and encountered Mr. LeMaitre high above them on the up-trail ridge as they worked their way down the down-trail at the base of the snow chute. The lead timer spoke with Mr. LeMaitre at approximately 6 p.m., noting that the runner was about 200 feet from the top of the mountain. The timer has reported that Mr. LeMaitre verbally confirmed that he wanted to continue. He looked good …

Read the entire statement here (PDF).

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com