Ground storm forces two Iditarod mushers to seek rescue

Mar 18, 2022, 9:12 AM | Updated: Mar 19, 2022, 5:15 am
FILE - A competitor mushes across Willow Lake during the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Rac...

FILE - A competitor mushes across Willow Lake during the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 6, 2022, in Willow, Alaska. Two back-of-the-pack mushers had to be rescued in separate incidents from race Friday, March 18, after winds from a severe ground storm caused deteriorating conditions, race officials said. (Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)

(Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two back-of-the-pack mushers had to be rescued in separate incidents from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Friday after winds from a severe ground storm caused deteriorating conditions, race officials said.

One of those rescued was a musher who had a dangerous encounter with a moose before the race started.

Both rescues happened Friday morning as mushers were making the final push for the finish line in Nome.

Gerhardt Thiart, who was nearing the checkpoint in Safety, 22 miles (35 kilometers) from Nome, activated his emergency beacon because of the storm.

Edward Stang from a nearby village was in the area on his snowmobile and found Thiart and his dog team. Thiart had suffered a leg injury.

Stang, who didn’t know Thiart had activated an emergency beacon, transported him to the nearby community of White Mountain. There, a helicopter picked up Thiart and took him to Nome, where he was undergoing evaluation Friday night, a statement from the Iditarod said.

About the same time, another musher, Bridgett Watkins, called a family member in Nome seeking assistance. A search-and-rescue team from White Mountain was dispatched, but in the meantime Watkin’s husband Scotty located her. He and four other people on snowmobiles left from Nome to help mushers during the storm.

Watkins was taken to White Mountain, where she was evaluated at a local clinic. She was then flown to Nome and was with family.

In February, Watkins was on a training run near Fairbanks when a bull moose began to stomp her dogs and didn’t stop even after she emptied her gun into the moose. She was able to call for help, and a friend showed up and killed the moose with a high-powered rifle after the moose had seriously injured four of her dogs.

The search and rescue team from White Mountain along with an Iditarod snowmobile crew who monitors the back of the race, were taking the two dog teams to Nome, where race veterinarians will evaluate them Friday, Iditarod officials said.

Both mushers had to scratch from the race because of the rescues.

The nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) Iditarod started March 6 near Willow and took mushers over the unforgiving Alaska wilderness. Brent Sass won the race Tuesday.

Of the 49 mushers that started the race, eight have scratched.

Nine mushers remain on the trail, all bunched up at the checkpoint in White Mountain, 77 miles (124 kilometers) from Nome.

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Ground storm forces two Iditarod mushers to seek rescue