Couple, biker rescued from Iditarod trail

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Even before the start of her rookie run in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, rookie musher Anna Bondarenko ran into trouble on the trail.

Bondarenko and her husband, James Lanier, were picked up by an Alaska Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopter Tuesday almost two days after they drove their snowmachine into a creek, Alaska State Troopers said.

And on the way back to Anchorage, the helicopter swooped down to pick up ''Willie'' Mulonia Guglielmo, an Iditasport Extreme racer who scratched from the race.

Bondarenko and Lanier, a former Iditarod musher, ran into trouble on Sunday as they scoped out the tough parts of the trail, Bondarenko said. Bad weather forced them to turn around. On their way back down the trail, the duo took a wrong turn and ended up sinking their snowmachine in a creek. They couldn't get it out and decided to camp there overnight, she said.

They were able to rescue a sled they pulled behind them that carried supplies, including some trail mix, a few candy bars, a stove and some fuel, Bondarenko said.

Meanwhile, Lanier seemed to be suffering from the stomach flu.

That's when Bondarenko first switched on her emergency beacon.

''We weren't sure if it was going to work at all,'' Bondarenko said.

A large airplane came over in response to the signal, and Bondarenko said she remembered being very surprised.

''And boy I got scared and I said, 'Oh my goodness, what have I done?' '' she said.

The Alaska Air National Guard plane dropped Bondarenko a ''streamer'' -- a pouch with a long tail on it that contained a message, said National Guard Lt. Col. Alan Barber, chief of the Rescue Coordination Center. The message told them to turn off their beacon if they were OK, or wave their arms if they were in real distress.

Bondarenko said she felt ''kind of intimidated'' and figured she and Lanier could last a few days longer or that a snowmachiner would come along. So she turned off the beacon and the plane flew away.

''We figured (they) didn't need any help,'' Barber said.

''I don't know what I was doing,'' she said.

On Tuesday morning Lanier and Bondarenko packed up their sleeping bags and the few supplies they had and set out hiking toward the Rainy Pass Lodge -- about seven miles away through deep, wind-blown snow.

That's when Bondarenko switched on the beacon again.

''We were really glad to see them come back,'' Bondarenko said. ''They picked us up and gave us a ride. We probably would still be walking.''

On their way back to Anchorage, a crew member in the helicopter noticed Guglielmo, who started waving madly, Barber said.

''He didn't waste any time getting into that helicopter,'' he said.

Guglielmo, an Italian biker, had taken a bad spill 10 miles outside of Finger Lake, said Margriet Van Laake, owner of Earth Bed and Breakfast in Anchorage where the biker sometimes stayed.

All three were flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center but didn't need medical attention, troopers said.

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