Juneau musher found after brief disappearance

Bicknell spotted from air after taking wrong trail

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2007

TAKOTNA - Deborah Bicknell of Juneau, competing in her first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, was located Thursday afternoon, hours after officials began searching for her along a treacherous stretch of trail.

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Bicknell, 61, was spotted from the air on a trail through Ptarmigan Pass, a route formerly used in the race, said race spokesman Chas St. George.

"It appears she took the wrong trail," St. George said.

She was seen driving her dog team 18 miles from the Rohn checkpoint, where she arrived late Thursday.

"That would be a pretty good indication that she's all right," St. George said.

Sandy Bicknell, the musher's husband, was with Iditarod officials in Anchorage when he received the news that she had been spotted. He said he was relieved.

He had no other information on his wife other than what the pilot had relayed.

"We'll just have to wait and see," he said.

He heard varying estimates of how many extra miles Deborah Bicknell had traveled by taking the wrong trail, but said it was at least 50 miles.

He had planned to rendezvous with his wife in McGrath, he said, "if I can get there fast enough to see her there."

The Iditarod race marshal has the authority to remove mushers from the race if they are out of the competition, but St. George said reaching the Rohn checkpoint indicates Bicknell is still able to race.

Another musher also mistakenly took the Ptarmigan trail in the race.

An aerial search was started for Bicknell after she had not shown up at Rohn. Bicknell was last seen at 9:12 a.m. Wednesday, leaving the Rainy Pass checkpoint, 224 miles into the race from Anchorage to Nome, said Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers.

The search included an Alaska State Troopers helicopter and two fixed-wing aircraft.

It was not immediately known if she carried any tracking device or two-way communications, which would have required prior approval from race officials.

Rainy Pass Lodge is 1,835 feet above sea level, and mushers continuing on climb another 1,325 feet in the 48-mile leg to Rohn, the sixth of 24 checkpoints along the 1,100-mile race.



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