Saturday, May 7, 2011

Missing B.C. woman found in U.S., but husband is still missing

Missing B.C. woman found in U.S., but husband is still missing

ELKO, Nev. — It is an astonishing tale of survival against all odds.

A British Columbia woman who vanished with her husband seven weeks ago on their way to Las Vegas was found alive Friday in a remote part of northeastern Nevada, police said.

Hunters found Rita Chretien, 56, with her van in Elko County, according to a joint statement from the RCMP and police in Baker City, Ore., where the couple were last seen. But there was no sign of her husband, Albert Chretien.

"We're stunned," the woman's son, Raymond Chretien, told the (Portland) Oregonian newspaper. "We haven't fully digested it. This is a miracle."

Rita Chretien survived 49 days in the wilderness by eating snow and small amounts of trail mix, her son said. She was airlifted to St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Centre in Twin Falls, Idaho, where a nursing supervisor said she was in fair condition Friday night.

RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk told The Associated Press that family members said she had lost 20-30 pounds during her ordeal but was on her feet, walking around at the hospital in Twin Falls.

A couple on four-wheelers spotted the Chretiens' van in a ravine near the Humboldt National Forest, Elko County sheriff's detective Sgt. Kevin McKinney told the Elko Daily Free Press.

"She sounds like she's coherent and she's very hungry," McKinney said, adding that officers interviewed her at the hospital.

Raymond Chretien said the sheriff's office planned to begin a search for his father Saturday, adding that he and his wife would be flying out to join his mother at the hospital.

Rita Chretien told her son she and her husband left their Penticton home March 19, crossed into Washington and reached Baker City that afternoon, where they bought gas at a food mart and were captured on a video surveillance camera.

The couple own a commercial excavating business and were headed to Las Vegas for a trade show.

Raymond Chretien said his mother told him they were sightseeing on back roads when their 2000 Chevrolet Astro van got stuck in mud. Three days later, Albert Chretien, 59 set out on foot to look for help, and never returned.

"I don't believe they were prepared for winter weather," Raymond Chretien said. "They don't go camping."

He said his mother doubts whether she would have lived more than another two or three days had the hunters not found her.

Rita Chretien kept a journal to let her family know what had happened if she didn't survive. 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.

The couple were reported missing by relatives after they didn't return home March 30.

In late April, police agencies said an extensive search air and ground had failed to turn up any sign of the couple or their vehicle.

_ With files from The Associated Press.

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