LISTEN: How did this Anchorage runner go missing in a popular mountain race?

Two photos together, the left from a driver's license, of a white man with short gray hair facing the camera and smiling, the second is the same man in black running clothes, a headband and gloves jogging toward the camera.
Searchers released these photos of Michael LeMaitre after he went missing in the 2012 Mount Marathon Race. At left is LeMaitre’s driver’s license photo. At right is a photo of LeMaitre in the race not long before he disappeared. (Alaska State Troopers)

The Mount Marathon Race in Seward took place Wednesday, after a year off due to the pandemic, without reports of any major trouble.

It’s not uncommon for racers to be injured, running to the top of 3,022-foot Mount Marathon and back down again. But what happened in the 2012 Mount Marathon Race really stands out in Alaska lore.

That’s when Anchorage resident Michael LeMaitre went missing while running the race, never to be seen again.

The mystery of what happened to LeMaitre is the subject of the Anchorage’s Daily News Curious Alaska column this week.

As ADN reporter Michelle Theriault Boots told Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove, race volunteers were the last people to see LeMaitre near the top of the mountain.

Listen here:

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The following transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

Michelle Theriault Boots: During that race, it was terrible weather. It was rainy, it was foggy, and he just never came down the mountain. There was an extensive search, his bereaved family also continued to search. And there’s just never been a trace of him found.

Later in that year of 2012, he was declared legally dead through a court proceeding called a presumed death trial, which is a way for families who’ve lost someone in a fishing boat accident or a plane crash, where remains are not going to be recoverable to have their loved one legally declared deceased so they can move on with settling estates and insurance and things like that.

So he’s been legally dead for almost nine years now. But I think there’s a lot of people who still very much want to know what happened to Michael LeMaitre. And that question has not been answered.

Casey Grove: And you took these questions back to the authorities. What did they tell you nine years later about this?

Theriault Boots: They searched, they didn’t find anything.

The race changed as a result of the disappearance. I think there was a healthy debate about how is this race unsafe, and they added some pretty sound safety measures, it sounds like. There are no sweepers that follow the Red Lantern, the last runner down the mountain, to ensure every person has gotten off the mountain. There’s a rule that if you’re much slower than then most of the runners you have to make it halfway up in one hour, or you’ll be disqualified. So that I think is discouraging of people who are going to be taking four or five, six hours — much longer to complete the race.

And then also, Michael LeMaitre had not been up and down the course ever before he raced. And now, if you do Mount Marathon, you have to attest publicly, you have to sign something like in a public room full of other racers that says that you have been up and down the whole course.

Grove: What do you think this story tells people about Alaska or about what happened to this guy?

Theriault Boots: I think it’s the same intrigue that makes people going missing in Alaska so fascinating for some people, because it’s just the vastness of the wilderness. Michael LeMaitre could have taken just a few wrong turns, and then very quickly was in the thousands and thousands of impenetrable, mountainous wilderness in the Kenai mountains.

I think that vastness and the proximity of that vastness to town and to thousands of people and spectators, that you could be gone without a trace while there are hundreds of runners and thousands of spectators, like a mile less than a mile away from you, is just a reminder for Alaskans of that very thin line we live in between our little patches of town and kind of infinite wilderness and the dangers of that.

I think that’s fascinating people. I know it’s fascinating to me, the overwhelming scale and power of the wilderness and how close we live to it and how close we all tried that line.

Correction: The photo caption on this story has been updated to correct the year Michael LeMaitre went missing to 2012.

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Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media. cgrove [at] alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8446 | About Casey

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