3 Iditarod mushers rescued by helicopter outside of Nome

A sled dog team mushing into the Cripple checkpoint on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Cripple is about 425 miles into the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

A helicopter pulled three Iditarod mushers from the trail on Friday after the teams went through deep overflow and activated an alert button seeking rescue, according to Alaska State Troopers.

The three mushers — Sean Underwood, Tom Knolmayer and Matt Failor — were outside of Safety, the final checkpoint before the finish line in Nome.

According to Chas St. George, an Iditarod spokesman, the incident occurred sometime Thursday night, but the group of teams didn’t call for help until Friday morning. They used a personal locator beacon.

“Once that was set off, we immediately tried to find out exactly what was happening out there,” St. George said. “A few texts were exchanged and that led us to realize we needed to get in there and get them out of the situation they were in.”

The Army National Guard rescued the three men about 25 miles outside of Nome.

“We received coordinates at about 9:45 this morning, and were in the air with two Nome firefighter EMTs and two dog handlers at 10:15,” said a statement from the pilot in command of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Josh Claeys.

The rescuers found the mushers inside sleeping bags, Claeys said.

“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,” he said.

He described it as one of the smoothest and quickest rescues.

Very high winds and warm temperatures created a deep overflow of water on a section of the Iditarod trail near Safety….

Posted by Iditarod Trail Committee on Friday, March 20, 2020

The mushers were checked into Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome and evaluated as a precautionary measures, St. George said.

The mushers and dogs are in good health, Iditarod officials said.

“From our periphery, they’re okay and that’s what counts,” St. George said. “The dogs, who are first and foremost in this whole equation, are doing just fine as well. So everybody should be reunited in Nome in the not too distant future.”

The dogs were brought to the Safety Roadhouse, the checkpoint about 22 miles from Nome, St. George said. Race officials are determining whether they will snowmachine the dogs to Nome or transport them another way.

Related: Follow all of our coverage of the 2020 Iditarod here.

Over the past 24 hours, the Nome area has had high winds and temperatures above freezing, melting snow. Water overflow is expected to linger near the Safety checkpoint and Nome’s shoreline.

According to St. George, the Iditarod will reroute the existing trail for the last 11 teams.

“We’re actually going to put in a trail that’s just adjacent to the trail that exists already,” he said. “That looks like there is no overflow in that area, and we’re just going to bypass it basically.”

By Friday, 23 of the 57 mushers who started the Iditarod have scratched or been withdrawn, including Underwood, 28, Knolmayer, 52, and Failor, 38.

Underwood is an Iditarod rookie who took over the team of four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King this year. This is Failor’s ninth Iditarod, and Knolmayer’s fourth.

Related: Meet Sean Underwood, the musher who found out last week he’d be racing the 2020 Iditarod

Norwegian musher Thomas Waerner won the 2020 Iditarod early Wednesday.

Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon contributed to this report.