March 21, 2020 / 6:01 AM / 20 days ago

UPDATE 1-Three mushers in Alaska sled race rescued by helicopter just short of finish

(Adds that all dogs were rescued, paragraph 3)

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 20 (Reuters) - Three contestants mushing through the final stretch of Alaska’s famed Iditarod sled dog course two days after the winner crossed the finish line were rescued by helicopter on Friday from trail flooding caused by unseasonably warm weather, authorities said.

The mushers were near the final checkpoint, just 22 miles from the finish line in Nome, when they ran into deep water and extremely high winds, according to representatives of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The three activated their emergency beacons and were plucked from the submerged trail by an Alaska National Guard helicopter team, with help from state troopers and other search-and-rescue personnel, officials said. The dogs, all accounted for, were collected at the site and transported separately to Nome, where they were checked by veterinarians, a race spokeswoman said.

The rescued mushers flown to Nome – Sean Underwood, Tom Knolmayer and Matthew Failor – were evaluated at a hospital and released, race officials said.

A series of storms brought howling southern winds and above-freezing temperatures to the Nome region, creating treacherous conditions near the end of the Iditarod trail.

Norwegian contestant Thomas Waerner won the Iditarod early Wednesday morning, mushing into Nome for a first-place showing witnessed by a much smaller crowd than typically throngs the finish line. City officials had canceled all Iditarod-related festivities and asked out-of-town fans to stay away as a public health precaution against transmission of the coronavirus.

Even Waerner’s wife watched the finish from afar. She had flown back to Norway to avoid being stranded in Alaska by travel restrictions.

Ten mushers were still on the trail on their way to Nome late on Friday. The race committee said it was working to repair the trail in the flooded section of the course.

Fifty-seven mushers and their teams started the 48th edition of the race in Anchorage on March 7. Twenty-three, including the three who were rescued on Friday, have dropped out of the race so far. (Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Steve Gorman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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