Two Iditarod mushers rescued from trail

a musher waves from the back of a sled on a snowy day
Gerhardt Thiart waves to people cheering along the Chester Creek Trail during the 2022 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

Two Iditarod mushers were rescued from the trail on Friday in bad weather, just a few dozen miles from the finish line, said a statement from race officials.

The statement reported a severe ground storm with very high winds over the Topkok Hills on the way to Safety, the checkpoint just 22 miles from the Nome finish line. 

Race officials say rookie musher Gerhardt Thiart hit his emergency beacon at 10:19 a.m. Friday.

A man on a snowmachine in the area found Thiart and helped him back to White Mountain, 77 miles from the finish line. Thiart had a leg injury. 

Thiart was flown from White Mountain to Nome and was being evaluated by medical professionals, said the race’s statement.

Around the same time, rookie musher Bridgett Watkins called a family member asking to be helped off the tail.

A woman with a blue hat and a black furruffed parka
Bridgett Watkins at Chatanika Lodge in February 2021. (Photo courtesy Bridgett Watkins)

White Mountain search and rescue was notified. And Watkins’s husband, Scotty, also left Nome on a snowmachine with four other residents to help.

Scotty found Watkins and took her to White Mountain, and she was then flown to Nome, said the race’s statement.

A post on her kennel’s Facebook page said the mushers encountered “a mixture of bad weather, bad trail conditions, and bad luck” that kept them stalled on the trail 15 miles out of White Mountain.

“We will have the full details of the story later, but both Bridgett and Gerhardt suffered injuries and were assisted off the trail and to Nome,” it said. “She was flown here from White Mountain, has been checked by medical staff, and though she has some cold exposure and a broken clavicle, still has a radiant smile.”

Rescuers are helping to bring the dog teams to White Mountain, where they will be checked out by vets. The post on Watkins’s kennel page says the dogs are doing well.

It also noted how close the racers had come to finishing their first Iditarod.

“There is a lot of heartbreak when we think about how close we came to the finish line, but this story is truly so much more than that,” it said.

It said it’s a story of camaraderie and teamwork, with Thiart and Watkins working together to ensure they and their dogs stayed safe. Plus, it said, it’s a story of perseverance, heroism and love.

The Iditarod named its race champion on Tuesday. Brent Sass raced into Nome in first place. He, however, had also experienced a severe storm around the Topkok area that sent his sled rolling, and left him struggling to find the trail.

RELATED: Wind almost derailed Brent Sass’s first Iditarod victory. Here’s what happened.

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