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Two more dogs die on Iditarod trail; musher Lance Mackey looks poised to win race

March 17, 2009 |  1:45 pm

Iditarod Many Iditarod watchers say Lance Mackey's victory is almost a lock.  The musher reached the checkpoint of Elim at 4:20 a.m. local time today with a comfortable lead; Elim is 123 miles from the race's endpoint of Nome.

The victory for which Mackey seems poised would be his third consecutive Iditarod win.  But a more troubling trend is also emerging as the race nears its completion: Two more dogs have died on the trail.  (A member of Jeff Holt's dogsled team died of an undetermined cause last week.)

The two dogs, Dizzy and Grasshopper, were part of the team of rookie Iditarod competitor Lou Packer, a doctor from Wasilla, Alaska.  Packer's wife, Ellen, told the Anchorage Daily News that she became worried about her husband while monitoring his progress through the Iditarod's GPS tracking system, a new technological addition to the race this year.  She recounted that Lou was measured traveling at .2 miles per hour for hours on Sunday. 

She asked Iditarod officials to check on Lou; he and his team were later rescued in a remote area 22 miles past a checkpoint called Iditarod. 

The Anchorage Daily News reports:

[Arnold Hamilton, a race trail breaker] said the winds have been blowing hard out of the north for days in the area and the little-used trail between Iditarod and Shageluk had drifted closed beneath blowing snow. That left mushers unable to move.

"There was three mushers that we heard were in trouble," he said. "So we sent two snowmachines out. Meantime, a plane got to them and took the one musher out with, I guess, he had two dead dogs."

Iditarod officials confirmed the dog deaths and said necropsies were planned to determine how the animals died. Thin-coated huskies have been an issue of concern among Iditarod veterinarians in recent years. Concerns have been growing that such dogs might fall victim to exposure.

A pathologist for the Iditarod Trail Committee was unable to determine visually the cause of Dizzy's and Grasshopper's deaths.  Further testing is expected.

Two other mushers, Kim Darst and Blake Matray, also scratched (removed themselves from the competition) between the checkpoints of Iditarod and Shageluk.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A musher drives across Norton Bay.  Credit: Al Grillo / Associated Press

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