Along Idaho-Nevada border, search for missing Canadian man resumes
RENO – Sheriff’s deputies searching for the husband of a Canadian woman who survived for seven weeks on water and trail mix in their stranded van in remote mountains near the Nevada-Idaho line were holding out hope against all odds on Saturday that he too somehow could still be alive.
Rita Chretien, 56, told investigators the last she saw of Albert Chretien, 59, was on March 22, when he set off for help on foot with a GPS unit just a few days after they got stuck in the mud on a national forest road in northern Elko County, Sheriff Jim Pitts said.
While it seemed unlikely he could have survived all this time, sheriff’s Detective James Carpenter said crews weren’t ready to turn the rescue mission into a recovery operation.
“I want to wait to see what they come up with,” Carpenter told the Associated Press. “It’s pretty nasty up there, and there’s no communication.”
Deputies from Nevada and Idaho’s Owyhee County searched the rugged river canyons and mountain sides along the north border of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, about 15 miles northeast of the federally protected Jarbidge Wilderness Area. Bad weather prevented them from using aircraft on Saturday.
“That area is pretty remote,” said Tom Montoya, U.S. Forest Service district ranger for the area. He described it as “miles from anything. It’s kind of canyon lands, a lot of gorges out there” that would make it easy to get lost.
Rita Chretien was listed in fair condition on Saturday at St. Lukes Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, Idaho. Hospital staff declined to release additional information.
Officer Dan Moskaluk, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia, said she reportedly was up and walking around.
“Her family said she lived off water and small amounts of trail mix,” losing 20 to 30 pounds during the ordeal, Moskaluk told the AP.
The Chretiens disappeared in late March during a trip to Las Vegas and last were seen in Baker City, Ore.
“We’re stunned,” Raymond Chretien, the couple’s son, told The (Portland) Oregonian in a telephone interview Friday night. “We haven’t fully digested it. This is a miracle.”
Detectives in Idaho intended to meet with Rita Chretien and her doctors again over the weekend, Carpenter said.
During brief questioning Friday, she told investigators her husband was walking to State Highway 225 in an attempt to find help.
That highway is more than 10 miles away from the area where hunters found the van on Friday. It forced search crews to consider the possibility Albert Chretien was confused and did not walk in that direction.
“I’m trying to figure out how the van ended up where it did,” Montoya told AP. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The van was found along the border of the national forest and Bureau of Land Management land about 5 miles south of the state line, where Idaho’s high desert collides with Nevada’s snow-capped Independence Mountains.
Rivers and streams with headwaters mostly in the wilderness area drain off 10,000-foot peaks to the north on their way to the Snake River.
“I don’t know how much snow is up there, but it’s really wet and heavy,” Carpenter said. Because of the snow and mud, the only way currently to access the site is from Idaho, he added. “We can’t get in from the Elko side.”
The couple left their Penticton, British Columbia, home on March 19, and reached Baker City in eastern Oregon that afternoon, where they were captured on a store’s surveillance camera.
Raymond Chretien told The Oregonian they made it to Nevada later that day, sightseeing on back roads when their van got stuck in mud. Three days later, Albert Chretien set out on foot.
Officials said weather over the past month in that area has included snow, rain and chilly temperatures.
“I don’t believe they were prepared for winter weather,” Raymond Chretien said. “They don’t go camping.”
The Chretiens were reported missing when they didn’t return home March 30.
The RCMP, Baker City police and other agencies mounted a search in April but failed to turn up any sign.
Moskaluk described it as an extensive search covering 3,000 square miles “from March 31 onward.”
He said the family is well regarded in Penticton and operates a heavy equipment excavation business.
Raymond Chretien said his mother doubts whether she would have made it three more days. She had been keeping a journal to let her family know what had happened.
Her son said she immediately apologized for the anguish she caused him, his two brothers and other relatives.
“She felt extremely bad for us all,” he said.