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Terrible News

From the Iditarod site a press release

Earlier today (at approximately 2pm Alaska Time) Iditarod Race officials deployed an Iditarod Air Force (IAF) aircraft to check on the whereabouts of Iditarod Rookies Lou Packer (bib #43), Kim Darst (bib #52) and Blake Matray (bib #9). All three mushers were overdue on their run to Shaguluk. Packer was located approximately 22 miles past Iditarod. He signaled that has was in distress. The (IAF) pilot landed and found that two of Packer’s 15 dogs were deceased. A plane load of dogs were immediately flown out and a second flight is underway to airlift Packer and the remainder of the team.

A group of local residents from Shagaluk are on the trail to assess and assist Darst and Matray.

A necropsy will be conducted by a board certified pathologist to make every attempt to determine the cause of death of the two dogs.

Lou Packer is a doctor from Wasillia who was featured on NPR that I mentioned below the fold on my Day 8 post.

This group had been running together, so I have to wonder if they became dispersed in the blowing snow. They are all rookies.  Correction: Lou Packer left at around 2PM local on the 15th, while Kim Darst and Blake Matray left together about 12 hours later.


1 Badtux { 03.17.09 at 2:12 am }

You’ll notice that they flew the plane load of dogs out first, before flying out Packer and the rest of the dogs. My guess is that Packer refused to get onto the plane until the last of his dogs was on the plane. Priorities :-).

Badtux´s last blog post..Really?

2 Lorraine { 03.17.09 at 5:46 am }

Lou loves all his dogs. I know they came first! He must be heartbroken.
Just so sad.

3 Bryan { 03.17.09 at 9:39 am }

From what information that is available, and given that he is a physician, I would assume they took out the dogs in the worst shape first to avoid further deaths. ADN doesn’t say that these were thinner coated dogs, but mentions concerns about using the dogs with thinner coats.

That is a very open area with no wind breaks of any kind and the wind would be coming from the rear, which would blow open the guard coat. In these windchills it doesn’t take long to get into trouble, and he had been on the trail for 24 hours.

4 JuanitaM { 03.17.09 at 12:40 pm }

So incredibly sad.

5 Bryan { 03.17.09 at 7:54 pm }

The initial examination by a pathologist was unable to provide a cause of death. I would put hypothermia on the top of my guesses.

6 Willie { 03.17.09 at 9:36 pm }

Bryan, I have to agree with you on hypothermia as the cause.
This year’s Iditarod is looking rough compared to last year’s. It started out a bit on the warm side like last, temperatures turned to what would be ideal and then the winds picked up rather fierce, blowing in the trail and making it miserable for both mushers and dogs. When seasoned veterans turn back or comment on how bad it is, then it really must be awful to be a rookie out there way back in the field! The worst that can happen in my opinion is to have a few dogs quit on you, which usually happens in the worst of places or times, leaving the team and musher vulnerable to the elements. Strong head winds, exhaustion or health issues will force a dog to quit in most cases but I believe the wind chill is to blame this year. The idea of all mushers equipped with GPS locating and the capability of distress alerts has been a wise choice to be included this year and has saved these mushers and their dogs from perishing. The death toll in dogs for this year is about the same as last year but the activists are already going to town on this years race as I type this and the negative press is parroting the same headlines with emphasis on the “2 more dogs die…”. No mention of praise on how many lives (human or canine) were saved by the addition of this much necessary equipment. It’s really sad that Lou had to experience the loss of his 2 dogs during that horrible blizzard. I just hope and pray everyone out there stays safe and that Lance thought well about continuing out in the wind, he really is a tough one and a good judge of weather who knows and cares for his dogs well enough to make the right decision of whether or not to go out so soon.

7 Bryan { 03.17.09 at 10:39 pm }

The reality is most dogs don’t like running into strong winds, and they will refuse to move. If you have leaders who like it, you’re fine, but if the dogs stop there’s not much you can do other than built a wind break.

I don’t know what the snow was like, but if it was crust over powder, you can’t use it to build a wall, and there aren’t many trees out there. The sled is about all you have for a break, as the tent will probable blow away as you are trying to erect it, and there won’t be room for 14 dogs anyway.

Lance was just ahead of the worst, but he acknowledged that the run to Koyuk was as bad as it gets on the trail.

The winds are supposed to continue through tomorrow, so this will be a very long and odd race as people are staying put and waiting them out.