780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Iditarod Teams Yet To Reach Nome Face Overflow, Three Mushers and Their Dogs Rescued

Earlier today Sean Underwood, Tom Knolmayer, and Matthew Failor requested assistance from race staff after they went through a section of trail with deep overflow from the Solomon River, outside of Nome.

According to Chas St. George, COO of Iditarod, the incident occurred sometime last night, but the group of teams didn’t activate their emergency beacons until about 9am this morning.

“Once that was set off, we immediately tried to find out exactly what was happening out there and that led us to realize, 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.”

A minimal statement from the Iditarod says Underwood, Knolmayer, and Failor were rescued by helicopter from a section of trail outside of Safety Roadhouse. Safety is the final checkpoint in the 1,000 mile race, which mushers normally cruise through before finishing in Nome. Local Search and Rescue officials confirm the three men were rescued by air guard and brought into town around 1pm.

The mushers were checked into Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome and evaluated for precautionary measures. As far as St. George knows, Underwood, Knolmayer, and Failor are doing fine.

“From our periphery they’re okay, and that’s what counts. And also of course, again, 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 COO says the plan is to keep the three dog teams, totaling 28 four-legged athletes, at Safety Roadhouse until Iditarod staff can determine if they will snowmachine the dogs to Nome or transport them by some other means.

With temperatures warming up to the mid-30s, melting snow, and high winds in the Nome area within the last 24 hours, water overflow is expected to linger near Safety and even closer to Nome’s shoreline.

Iditarod musher Tim Pappas navigates his team and sled through a strip of overflow just outside of Nome on Thursday afternoon. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020)

According to St. George, the Iditarod will reroute the existing trail so the last 11 teams, who are all currently resting in Elim, can avoid this dangerous area.

“We’re actually going to put in a trail that’s just adjacent to the trail that exists already. That looks like there is no overflow in that area, and we’re just going to bypass it basically. That will be done well before the next wave of mushers head up the trail.”

Each of the latest four Iditarod teams to finish in Nome yesterday afternoon told KNOM about their struggles going through other ledes of open water during their run in from Safety to the finish line. So far, 23 out of 37 remaining teams have completed this year’s Iditarod race.

One particularly challenging are of overflow is located at the bottom of a local snow ramp, which mushers use to access Front street and cross into the city for their race-finish in Nome. Iditarod staff have since setup an alternate overland section of trail that avoids that area.

KNOM’s JoJo Phillips also contributed to this report.

Image at top: Musher Tim Pappas viewing the overflow of water as he races along the coast a mile away from the finish line in Nome. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020).