Crews hope to resume search for Canadian man
The Associated Press
TWIN FALLS, Idaho – Rescue crews are hoping the weather improves and the risk of flash flooding lessens enough to resume the search for a Canadian man who has been missing for seven weeks in the rugged, high desert mountains along the Nevada-Idaho border.
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Efforts to find 59-year-old Albert Chretien were suspended Tuesday by rain, low clouds and flood warnings in a remote corner of Elko County, Nev., where Chretien and his wife became stranded along a muddy road on a trip to Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Rita Chretien continues to recover after being rescued Friday by a group of hunters.
After surviving seven weeks in the mountains by rationing trail mix and hard candy, Rita Chretien, 56, is back to eating solid food, consuming salmon and green beans for dinner Monday and a breakfast burrito and homemade salsa Tuesday at a hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho. Doctors upgraded her condition to good.
“Her spirits are high,” said Ken Dey, a spokesman for St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. “The medical team is watching her closely, but indicators of her recovery are very good.”
The hospital said it wasn’t certain yet when she would be discharged.
The couple from Penticton, British Columbia, is believed to have turned off a highway and onto a northeastern Nevada mountain road looking for a shortcut to Jackpot, Nev., a stop on their way to a Las Vegas trade show. When their van became stuck in the mud, Albert Chretien set out on his own with a GPS, hoping to walk more than 20 miles to the town of Mountain City. He never returned.
Rescue teams were eager to head back to the rugged backwoods of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the largest forest in the lower 48 states at 6.3 million acres, to continue their search for Albert Chretien.
If weather allows, deputies will use new information gathered from their interview with Rita Chretien and the hunters who rescued her to pinpoint their search Wednesday, said Sgt. Kevin McKinney, spokesman for the Elko County Sheriff Department.
“We’re going to try and get a little deeper into the area,” McKinney told The Associated Press. “There are plenty of roads and plenty of area to cover. But we’re trying to eliminate the most likely places now and go down those that seem a little less likely.”
On Monday, two teams slogged through tough conditions as part of their hunt. One group was helicoptered into the site where the van was found; another on horseback and all-terrain vehicles trekked up dirt roads outside Mountain City.
At the family home in southwestern Canada, friends were coping with the shock of learning Rita Chretien was alive and the anguish that her husband’s whereabouts were still unknown.
“After seven weeks of prayer and anticipation for Al and Rita to be found, it was like receiving somebody back we thought had died,” said the Rev. Neil Allenbrand of the Church of the Nazarene. The Chretiens have attended the church for about 12 years.
Residents say Albert Chretien has been a pillar of the community, volunteering his time and expertise as the owner of a commercial excavating business to help build a church school.
Tony Friesen, who recently met Albert Chretien while working on the school, spent a week in April in eastern Oregon and southern Idaho, riding his motorcycle on rural back roads trying to piece together how and where the couple disappeared.
After seven weeks, he was expecting the worst.
“I never thought, for one second, they would ever be found alive,” Friesen said.
Hunters found Rita Chretien after spotting her 2000 Chevrolet van mired in mud. Alone in the rugged and isolated country, she survived on a tablespoon of trail mix, a single fish oil pill and one hard candy a day, said her son, Raymond Chretien.
She reportedly lost 20 to 30 pounds while she was stranded, and doctors say she faced the prospect of death soon had she not been found.
Raymond Chretien said his mother relied on the Bible during her ordeal, returning again and again to Psalm 86, which includes the passage: “Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.”
The Chretiens were last seen on surveillance video March 19 while stopping for gas in Oregon.
They later became the subject of a search by Oregon State Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other law enforcement agencies. The city of Penticton, just north of the Washington border, set up a fund to aid the search.
Numerous tips were received in the week after the Chretiens went missing, but none indicated the route they had taken.
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said Rita Chretien’s discovery was almost unbelievable.
“If it’s not a miracle, it’s damn close to a miracle, that she was able to survive for that period of time,” Ashton said. “We just hope it will be a similar outcome with Mr. Chretien.”