Paul Michael LeMaitre - Strange disappearances from U.S. Mountains

Paul Michael LeMaitre, disappeared July 4th 2012, Mount Marathon, Seward, Alaska.

Paul Michael LeMaitre disappearance

65 year old Michael LeMaitre was competing in the Mount Marathon race in Seward, Alaska, which is south of the city of Anchorage. This was an extreme event and he was last seen on July 4th, about 200 feet from the top of Mount Marathon, a 3022 feet high peak. He was never seen again and his body was never located despite extensive searching. Lost without a trace, not even clothing - black shorts, black T-shirt, black headband.

Michael was competing for the first time in the 85th running of the race, with participants running up the mountain surrounded, by thick forests and creeks over 3.1 to 3.5 miles. Starting in downtown Seward, racers run a half-mile to the bottom of Mount Marathon, then scrabble about 2,900 vertical feet straight up cliffs and mud and shale before getting to Race Point, an artificial summit point. Then participants go downhill over snowfields and rock fields, waterfalls and crags until they reach the finish line, back on the streets of Seward. There is an entry limit, with around 90 percent of the participants being returnees and with a coveted lottery ticket system in place.

Mount Marathon sign

Unusually, in this 2012 event, three people were hurt, including one man who suffered serious head injuries. But until this year, no one had ever died or gone missing on the race.

Tim Lebling, warned the racers at the pre-race safety talk, “If you have not been up that mountain before, you should consider going home right now, and you should not be in the race,”. But, LeMaitre was undeterred. He was apparently fit and healthy, having been a regular visitor to the gym and had finished a 12K event a month earlier, but despite the warning he had never visited the course he chose to continue. A big mistake with the benefit of hindsight. 

The second wave of the race which included LeMaitre started at 3.15pm. At around 5.45pm on the day of the race, Tom Walsh, a race steward, saw Michael ascending to the turnaround point with about 200 feet to go. At this point, the area was getting foggy and cold but Walsh saw no reason to be concerned about the condition of the runner. Walsh asked LeMaitre for his bib number and he replied “Five-four-eight,” and as he descended back towards the town he texted race officials: Bib number 548 would be home in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, it was not to be!

Hours later, search and rescue teams were called onto the mountain at around 8 pm by his wife Peggy with temperatures falling and rain worsening. By 2 am, an Alaska State Troopers’ helicopter equipped with infrared radar was scanning the mountain. Searchers worried that if he wasn’t already injured, he probably had hypothermia because of his light clothing, exhaustion and freezing weather. The next morning the 210th Rescue Squadron of the Alaska Air National Guard, which specialises in searching for crashed pilots and missing hikers, arrived with its HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter for another infrared scan. A team of up to 60 searchers crawled around the mountain, looking everywhere, even the other side, away from the race course. Four days after LeMaitre disappeared, the official rescue attempt was called off, though the Seward Volunteer Fire Department kept looking. A cadaver dog was sent into the area and friends paid for and analysed high-resolution photographs of the mountain.

Mountain rescue experts, firemen, state troopers, search dogs and LeMaitre’s family spent thousands of hours searching the area but without a single clue being found. Strange.....

Even after the official search was called off in mid-July, volunteers continued to search the mountain, including LeMaire's daughter Mary Anne, saying "Seward has so much meaning to my dad, so here he is, looking out. He's on Mount Marathon somewhere."

In July 2013, LeMaitre’s widow sued the Seward Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the race, for $5 million and eventually settled in October 2014 for $20,000. Race organizers instituted a number of new safety measures in 2013, including mandatory signed statements from runners that they’ve completed training runs on the course, a one-hour time limit for racers to reach the summit, and sweeps of the mountain by volunteers after each wave of the race.

Everyone involved in the Marathon Mountain event asks the question, how does someone disappear during a three mile race and be lost forever, without a trace? He was seen near the ascent and with only 1.5 miles to go, downhill.  5 years since Michael disappeared, not one piece of physical evidence has surfaced. He literally vanished off the mountain.