ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Peggy LeMaitre no longer holds out hope that her husband is alive five weeks — and multiple searches — after he vanished on Alaska's Mount Marathon during a popular extreme race.
"The only hope I have is that they will find him and bring him home, so we can put him to rest," the Anchorage woman said.
Her husband of 43 years, Michael LeMaitre, was last seen on July 4, about 200 feet from the top of Mount Marathon in Seward, south of Anchorage. The 65-year-old was competing as a rookie in the 85th running of the annual race on the steep 3,022-foot-high mountain.
Family and friends have coped by doing what they could, Peggy LeMaitre said. A group of doctors who work with her daughter, Michelle Lynn, a nurse, arranged to have a cadaver dog flown up from Oregon. A friend of the family paid for helicopter search time. Another friend took high-resolution photos of the mountain, studying them for hours on his computer.
Nothing. Not a trace.
The family held a celebration of life last month that brought more than 200 friends and family together. That was comforting, and there are some days when Peggy LeMaitre does well.
Other days, she's a wreck.
"The pain is so real," she said. "I know he's not going to come back."
Cuts and bruises and even broken bones are fairly common in the Mount Marathon race, and in this year's event three people were hurt, including one man who sustained critical head injuries. But never has anyone died or gone missing, and LeMaitre's disappearance hit the town of about 2,700 hard.
Seward Fire Chief Dave Squires, whose crews were involved in the initial search, said many residents have felt compelled to look for the missing man.
Squires expects a spike in searchers after the dense mountain foliage begins to thin in the fall. His crews might check some spots. The goal for many is to find some kind of closure, Squires said.
"It's important to have that, for the community, for the family and for my department," he said.
Even after the official search was called off in mid-July, volunteers have continued to scour the mountain.
Among the volunteers is MaryAnne LeMaitre, who says she is reluctantly nearing the end of her mission to find her father in what she believes is his final resting place. She went to the mountain Wednesday to focus on a spot not yet checked.
MaryAnne LeMaitre, who posts updates on her Facebook page, feels she needs to return to her home in Moab, Utah, soon. But not until making at least one more trek to Mount Marathon besides her visit Wednesday.
She wants to say goodbye to her father in a place overseeing the water where her family spent so much time boating over the years.
"Seward has so much meaning to my dad," she said. "So here he is, looking out. He's on Mount Marathon somewhere."