ANCHORAGE, Alaska – An Anchorage pediatrician died after a snowmobile slammed into his dog sled during a mushing excursion in northwest Alaska.
Alaska State Troopers said 53-year-old Roger Gollub was killed in the crash Wednesday night a few miles from the town of Kotzebue.
A local woman riding in the sled, Tracy Schaeffer, was severely injured and was in critical condition Thursday after she was flown to a hospital in Anchorage. Her husband, Chuck Schaeffer, said she broke all the ribs on one side and had to undergo heart surgery and removal of her spleen.
"I have been emotional all day long off and on, but I have to remain strong so I can take our 8-year-old daughter to see her mom," he said in a telephone interview.
Patrick Tickett, 20, was driving the snowmobile in the same direction as the dog team when it hit the sled on a trail, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
The 10 dogs broke off from the sled and scattered, according to Chuck Schaeffer. He said the dogs were later rounded up and were doing fine.
Schaeffer said his wife is an occupational therapist who also runs a mushing excursion business on the side. Tracy Schaeffer knew Gollub through their medical work and when he was in town this week, the plan was to take him along for an exercise run because he had never been mushing.
To give him the full experience, she let him drive the team.
Schaeffer said his wife told him she kept flashing her headlamp toward the snowmobile after noticing its fast approach behind them. The snowmobile also had its headlights on, so it's unclear why it struck the sled, the husband said.
He said the impact reportedly mangled one of the doctor's legs, and Tracy Schaeffer tried to tie a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, despite her own injuries.
"She was conscious the whole time," he said.
Tickett, the snowmobiler was heading to the village of Noorvik 40 miles east of Kotzebue with his passenger, 20-year-old Clarissa Cleveland, when the collision occurred, troopers said.
Tickett tried to drive back to Kotzebue for help. But the snowmobile's belt had broken, so he and Cleveland headed there on foot and soon encountered another snowmobiler. The pair got a ride back to town and reported the crash.
Chuck Schaeffer said the trail is part of a network of links between villages in the region. They are used by mushers, skiers and snowmobilers, including those who are dangerously aggressive drivers.
"This kind of thing was bound to happen," Schaeffer said. "It's unfortunate that someone had to die."
Gollub, a native of New York City, retired in September but stayed on as needed at Southcentral Foundation, an Alaska Native nonprofit health corporation. Foundation spokeswoman Kristin Tolbert said Gollub was an accomplished pianist and track athlete during his high school years in a St. Louis suburb, and he had a longtime passion for ham radio communications.
"Our organization suffers greatly from his loss," Tolbert said.