Mount Marathon Rescue Efforts Continue (KTVA.com Exclusive)
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SEWARD – A red and black glove, a black bandana, an orange racing chip - any clue of where Michael LeMaitre may be…
“Honestly, I am running out of ideas,” said Seward Fire Chief David Squires. “I hope you're the group that finds him, I hope you bring him home.” It was a brief message of frustrated hope from the chief, who is determined to do what ever it takes to find the 66-year-old Mount Marathon runner.
A group of 18 gathered at 9 a.m. sharp to be briefed. Drawn in a blue, dry-erase marker was a small map giving us directions where to search and what to expect, but even the most detailed instructions would not prepare you for the “hike” that the group of statewide volunteers were about to take.
I was dressed in my black workout pants, and before we left the station a fellow experienced volunteer informed me that that wasn't going to be the best choice. He suggested jeans, and now after looking at the scrapes on my exposed skin, it was a very valuable piece of advice. I reluctantly changed into my Levi's, which are now covered in dirt, green stains, thorns and even a caterpillar.
Around 10 a.m. we were shuttled in groups from the firehouse to the mountain. In a white jeep we got to know each other, bouncing over bumps, rocks and mud holes, piled seven deep into the off-road vehicle.
Jokes were made and everyone’s spirits were high. We were dropped off and we waited for the others to begin our journey.
“Be safe,” said Squires, as he made his way back down the jeep trail and we prepared for our search to begin.
We spread out eight feet apart and belted off our numbers for a head count before beginning. Not three steps into the “hike” was a jagged, rocky cliff. It was hidden behind bushes and devil's club that towered over the top of my head. It was like rock climbing, without the security of a harness. Each step was precisely thought out. I searched for trees and steady rocks to place my feet and bare hands.
“Falling rock!” shouted Bob, a man next to me in line, who just moments ago was discussing dogs with me. He briefly lost his footing, but was able to quickly regain his composure. I was focusing on his safety, and the devil’s club I had my hand around was breaking and the small tree beneath me was creaking. I dug my feet and fingers into mud, braced myself and pulled myself up.
A few minutes later we were up and over the ridge. We headed to the spruce trees, where we were told to stop, placing yellow markers in the trees, which were already covered with orange tape, where searchers had already been. I was up to my neck in devil’s club, grass and weeds.
Jackie Marshal was to my left and shouted my name, making sure I was well. We had briefly lost sight of one another, but she was only three feet away from me. We made it to the spruce trees and in a single-file line we began trekking uphill.
“Okay, stop,” yelled Denis. Denis is a tall man, with a suntan, an experienced outdoorsman, and our team captain. “Lets count.”
From one to 18 the shouts of the hikers yelling numbers, echoed across the mountain. We were all there, and moving back toward the ridge we started at.
I climbed through trees, and to my left saw Marshall almost on her knees searching for any clue she could find.
I tumbled out of the trees and into devil’s club. I was briefly out of sight from the rest of our search team. I regained my balance and kept moving.
Our starting point was a series of snow tunnels that formed due to heavy snowfall. We took a break, rehydrated, and Mark, an Anchorage shop owner, began climbing beneath them. Inside the tunnels was water than ran like a waterfall from the top of the mountain.
Those of us on top of the tunnel were instructed not to move, as he carefully inspected the highly hazardous area on all-fours.
He came out dripping wet and empty-handed.
According to Mark and Marshall, many snow tunnels that had been there on race day were no longer there – they had collapsed, something that took a dog’s life last year.
We continued to climb the mountain and search, but after four hours the jeep was back and the day was over.
“It's just a mystery,” said Marshall, a Seward resident who has been running the race for the last 13 years. “I mean I remember injuries, but never anything like this.” After the race her husband helped in the search for LeMaitre for three days. “I read that they were asking for help from anyone who is willing to search, so I did.”
She said that this years problems will not affect her decision to continue running Mount Marathon, but she hopes it gives future runners perspective.
“I mean no disrespect to the family, but it will give people pause, so people know what they are getting into. It's very serious and it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it can be.”
LeMaitre was last seen in a black t-shirt, black shorts, red and black gloves, and about 200 feet from the top of the mountain.
Squires said he will continue to search until he has no more resources, but as long as the volunteers are coming in he will keep treating them with the small-town hospitality that Seward is known for, and he will keep searching for Michael LeMaitre.