The hardest loss


Brad Broach selfie on the North Face Trail at the Alyeska Resort

After more than a week of futile search involving hundreds of people, the hunt for missing Texan Brad Broach was winding down in Girdwood on Sunday.

Alaska State Troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain emailed that the plan called for only “limited searching” this week. Searchers have basically run out of places to look for the 46-year-old man who signed in at the Winner Creek Trailhead on Aug. 2, but never signed out.

He recorded the time as 9:45 p.m. With the summer days still long in the land of the Midnight Sun, there was plenty of time left for a hike. Sunset wouldn’t come for almost another hour, and civil twilight, which provides more than enough illumination for travel on the well-maintained trail, would linger past 11:30 p.m.

The temperature was in the 50s, the sky overcast and hinting at rain. The rich, green coastal rain forest of spruce and hemlock along the trail would have been at its  elf-world lushest in such conditions.

Broach made no notation on where he was headed or what he planned to do, but people who sign into trail logs are usually people who plan to sign out. Where exactly Broach went after he left the trailhead remains a mystery.

But all indications are the father of three never left the Girdwood area.

When he failed to return home to Allen as scheduled, his wife notified troopers. They found his rental car and belongings in a parking lot at the Alyeska Resort. A search was begun almost immediately and only grew over the course of a week.

Hardest loss

Possibly nothing leaves a greater sense of loss with family and friends than to have a loved one simply vanish.

After Alaskan Cody Roman Dial – R2 to most who knew him – disappeared in the Costa Rican jungle in 2014, his father Roman, an Alaskan adventurer of note, spent almost two years searching for his son. Along the way, Roman sold his soul to reality TV to try to gain assistance in the hunt.

“Missing Dial,” a TV show suggesting Cody was murdered, was about to air when the young man’s body was found. He’d apparently died in a wilderness accident. Roman, in an interview with Men’s Journal, later confessed the TV show was a mistake, and then bared his soul about what it is like to endure the not knowing of disappearance.

“What did it feel like when you (Cody’s) stuff in person?” Men’s Journal asked. “It had been such a long journey.”

“There was a certain finality to it that was sad, but actually more of a relief than anything else,” Roman said. “I felt like I had been under water for two years and I couldn’t breath and I’d finally come to the surface for air.”

Mary Anne LeMaitre knows that feeling well. After an exhaustive search failed to find her father, who mysteriously disappeared during the July Fourth Seward Mount Marathon four years ago, she spent more than a month in Alaska searching with friends and acquaintances.

“I went up the mountain for the last time on Saturday,” she posted on Facebook on Aug. 13, 2012. ” I reached the top just after 6:00 pm – the same time my dad was last seen just below the top on race day. I guess ‘like father, like daughter.’ It took us both about three hours to get to the top. I was short on time, so I took a few minutes to myself at the rock, then pulled out the drumel (sic) tool. I had limited battery life on it, so had to engrave something simple. I decided on the first thing that came to mind… ‘I LOVE YOU DAD.’ Once I got that engraved, I thought of putting my initials, MSL. The battery died just as I started engraving the ‘M.’ I was actually glad because what I had engraved was what I needed to say, and it was simple.”

She ended the post with this:

“There’s a prayer I keep repeating over and over in my head… even now. ‘Dear Lord, please keep my father safe from harm, keep him warm, and keep him alive. Help us find him as soon as possible. Amen.’ I know he’s probably not alive, but I’m going to continue with that prayer until we do find him. I know I’m not the only one looking, and I appreciate how much everyone cares about wanting to find him.”

Michael LeMaitre’s body has never been found.  His disappearance during one of Alaska’s most famous sporting events remains an enduring mystery. Most believe he wandered past the turn-around rock that marks the “top” for the Seward Mount Marathon, but where he went after than no one knows.

No one had ever disappeared on Mount Marathon before. No one has ever disappeared on the Winner Creek Trail. Some of the Facebook posts of the Broach family are now eerily similar to those of Mary Anne.

There is always hope until a body is found. In some ways, it makes the struggle harder, knowing logically that someone is likely gone over to the other side, whatever that might be, and still hoping emotionally that they walk through the door to give you a hug.

Most likely scenario

With Brad Broach’s cellular phone untrackable (even with a low battery phones can often be located) and the man missing for more than 24 hours, search and rescue personnel quickly came to a logical search conclusion:

Winner or Glacier creeks.

Only about a mile and a half from the Alyeska Tram, a bridge on the Winner Creek Trail crosses the roaring waters of the Winner Creek gorge. If Broach had climbed down below the bridge, he could have fallen in the water and drowned his phone.

About another quarter mile on the, the trail comes to Glacier Creek hand tram, which crosses a ravine, and a trail that leads down into the ravine. If Broach had clambored down that trail to get a look at the creek, he could have again fallen into fast water.

A 73-year-old California woman died in a rafting accident on the creek in 2008 and her 75-year-old husband was critically injured after they came out of raft during a commercial float.

A rock-bashing AlumaSki, an Alaska-tough version of a jet-ski, was last week dispatched to search Glacier Creek for any sign of Broach. It went upstream from a bridge across Glacier Creek in Girdwood up through the rocky  Class III whitewater to the hand tram.

No sign of Broach. But he could have fallen in the creek above the tram or into Winner Creek. He could have fallen in below the tram, managed to struggle out and died of hypothermia somewhere in the surrounding forest.

And he could still be out there somewhere, dazed, confused and hanging on. Strange things do sometimes happen in Alaska.

Melanie Gould, a one-time top-20 finisher in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, went missing in the Interior at the start of June 2011. A massive search followed. There was no sign of her. The search was called off after about a week.

Two days later, Gould emerged from the wilderness. It was later revealed she had been suffering from severe emotional problems. She has since moved out of state and found treatment. She is doing much better now.

Her case was unique. There are no indications Broach had any reasons or desire to disappear. But the Gould case does provide a ray of hope that Broach might somehow, inexplicably, still be alive out there somewhere.












6 replies »

  1. Last August I was wrapping up a once in a lifetime dummer long externship in Anchorage & had a day trip planned for Girdwood. I heard about Brad Broach having gone missing on the same trail (Winner Creek) I had looked forward to exploring. As I set out behind the Aleyeska hotel missing signs were omnipresent. My heart sank for Brad & his family complete strangers to me. As moved along the trail and approached the beautiful wooden bridge I couldn’t help wondering if he’d done what I did and crossed over and taken the small path off to the right that with 25 yards was clearly not the actual trail? As I took the hand tram across the gorge their were several people there to help me across but were there any there the evening Brad had crossed? More than a year later I remember his name and that last picture he took of himself in one of the most beautiful places. 😢

    • Cathy: these Alaska disappearances can haunt people. i know the feeling. if he went in the water, i’d have to think it was somewhere upstream from the tram. the river downstream was searched pretty thoroughly. if he got to the tram, i doubt he met anyone there. the story has been so widely circulated here that it would be hard to believe anyone who was in the area at the time remains unaware of this disappearance.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Craig. I’ve read it numerous times and search daily on the internet for any more news on Brad. I was able to donate to his family’s GoFundMe account on Facebook. But those donations, while very kind and helpful, do not remove the feelings you described so well in this post. We lived in King Cove, AK for three-plus years (2007-2010). Made many trips between Anchorage and Homer driving cars to the ferry for town folks when we made it out of the village. Survived a 3-hour drive in white-out conditions in April 2009, with Girdwood providing the first decent visibility and the realization that my amazing wife had driven us through blinding snow to safety. Somehow. Girdwood always seems so safe. Inviting. Innocuous. Even when we saw our first black bear in the wild there, there seemed to be no danger, no alarm. Brad appears to be such a great guy; a great dad, husband, and friend, with a beautiful family. My heart breaks for them, in the not knowing, in the silence of no ‘new news,’ in their loss that I’m sure they daily hope and pray will prove to somehow be only temporary. I pray for them. And a part of me wants desperately to return to Girdwood, to walk the Winner Trail. To look for Brad. To find Brad. To allow that family to come up for air again. — Rob L

    • totally understand. you reflect a lot of my personal feelings. i have a acquaintance who went lost long ago. we shared an interest in waterfowl. we used to run into each other most often in spring and always talked that subject. every time i seed a beautiful “green head” mallard, i think of Kent.

  3. @Craig, over my tenuous years I’ve lost four or more pilot friends who took off but never returned. Needle in a frigging haystack. Flew weeks on end trying to find them. Whereabouts remain unknown. For 15 years I put 20 people a day out surveying Native allotments. Even when I knew where they should be, hard to find a guy in the woods. I rescued Yair off the ITI when he got disoriented & in Red Creek 4 miles north of Iditarod trail between Shell and Finger. Guy cold, soaking wet in green sleeping bag in dense spruce. Takes a good eye. Peace to the family here, but with time lapsed, odds are low for a good outcome.

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