Musher rescued after breaking leg

Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2000

FAIRBANKS -- A Fairbanks musher was airlifted to safety Friday after breaking his leg on a training run in the White Mountains National Recreation Area.

Phil Russell, 47, a Yukon Quest veteran, ventured into the recreation area on Thursday in search of snow to run his dogs.

Russell's wife, Nakita, reported her husband overdue at 9:30 a.m. Friday when he didn't return.

''I knew there were about five things that could have happened to him, and none of them were good,'' she said.

She said Russell stopped when his dogs took a wrong turn. He walked to the front of the team to straighten them out, but the dogs pulled the snowhook and took off. Russell was hit on the side of the leg.

''He doesn't know what hit him, but the dogs were whizzing by and he grabbed one of the harnesses on the wheel dogs and got drug,'' Nakita Russell said. ''He knew he couldn't get up. His leg was broke.''

Nakita Russell said her husband was close to one of the public use cabins.

''So he just hung on and he kept encouraging (the dogs) to drag him to the cabin,'' she said.

When they reached it, he managed to stake out the dogs and crawl into the cabin until help arrived Friday.

''It's a really bad break. He has to have surgery,'' Nakita said. ''He's just fortunate that it happened really close to a cabin.''

Alaska State Troopers drove to the Wickersham Dome trailhead at Mile 28 of the Elliott Highway and found Russell's pickup in the parking lot. Troopers then called in Ed Lee, a ranger who regularly patrols the 200-mile trail system in the 1 million acre recreation area, to look for Russell by snowmachine.

Lee found Russell at 1:06 p.m. at the cabin about 16 miles off the Elliott Highway. An Army rescue helicopter picked him up 45 minutes later and transported him to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

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