Iditarod mushers Failor, Knolmayer and Underwood rescued after activating emergency beacons Friday

 Photo of rescue operation from Alaska Army National Guard.
Photo of rescue operation from Alaska Army National Guard. (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 20, 2020 at 3:08 PM AKDT
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Three Iditarod mushers were rescued Friday morning after they activated their emergency beacons, Alaska State Troopers said in a dispatch report Friday.

Tom Knolmayer, 52, of Wasilla; Sean Underwood, 28, of Denali National Park; and Matthew Failor, 38, of Willow, were rescued after Nome Search and Rescue and RCC were contacted and deployed. The three were taken in by the air guard and brought back to Nome via helicopter manned by aircrew with the Alaska Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation unit.

“They were inside of sleeping bags,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Josh Claeys of the three mushers. Claeys was the pilot in command of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that performed the search and rescue mission. “The medics got them on oxygen and warmed up inside, and the dog handlers and some of Nome rescue stayed with the dogs and had plans to get them back to Nome,” which Claeys said was about 30 miles along the trail.

Alaska State Troopers first received the report around 9 a.m. Friday of the three Iditarod mushers activating their beacons, requesting they be rescued from east of the mouth of the Solomon River. Failor, Underwood, and Knolmayer had all left the White Mountain checkpoint within three minutes of each other on Thursday night, according to official Iditarod standings.

The three were taken to a local hospital for medical clearance. Their dog teams - which are reportedly in good condition - were brought back to Nome by Iditarod dog handlers who were dropped off at the rescue location.

According to the AST release, particularly warm weather "has caused deep overflow on parts of the trail and the wind has been constant." The Army Guard added that "[s]outhblowing winds had persisted overnight and pushed seawater up onto the Iditarod Trail, and the mushers weren’t aware that it was underwater."

The Iditarod Trail Committee also said late Friday afternoon that "very high winds and warm temperatures created a deep overflow of water on a section of the Iditarod trail near Safety," and that race crews are reworking the section of trail so that remaining teams can proceed to Nome.

The Iditarod has thus far seen a total of 20 scratches for the 2020 race, not including Failor, Knolmayer and Underwood being rescued Friday. While the use of outside assistance for travel does necessitate an official scratch, mushers must go through a process - including paperwork - to officially withdraw the race. The Iditarod had not announced the scratches of Failor, Knolmayer or Underwood as of press time.

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