A year and half after their harrowing ordeal in the Nevada wilderness, a Penticton woman says she is grateful for the efforts of her late husband, who gave his life seeking help after the couple’s van got stuck in the mud.
“You did good, Al,” said a soft-spoken Rita Chretien at a news conference with other family members at the Penticton RCMP detachment on Tuesday. “Thank you for your effort.”
Hunters discovered Albert Chretien’s body on Saturday, in a wooded area on Merritt Mountain in Northern Elko County, Nevada. He was about 11 kilometres from where the van had gotten stuck, said Detective Jim Carpenter of the Elko County Sheriff’s Office.
Ms. Chretien was joined at the news conference by Albert Chretien’s older brother, Henry; Henry’s wife, Betty; and Pastor Neil Allenbrand from the Church of the Nazarene. It was the first time the Chretien family appeared together at a media briefing since the ordeal, which began in March, 2011, and saw Ms. Chretien, then 56 years old, survive seven weeks in the couple’s van, rationing snack foods and drinking melted snow to survive.
Henry Chretien said Tuesday it appeared his brother had died peacefully.
“Our understanding is Albert’s remains were found resting under a tree,” he said in a prepared statement. “He had placed his backpack where it could be seen. He laid down under the protection of the tree for a much-needed rest and died peacefully in his sleep.”
Mr. Chretien’s clothed skeleton was intact and he had a blanket and other possessions on him, Henry Chretien said.
“We conclude that he was not attacked before or after his death by mountain lions or other large predators,” he said. “This brings us comfort.”
Added Ms. Chretien: “It was a great joy and relief to know that he was there and obviously rested in peace. It was such a comfort to know that his body was not ripped apart by wild animals.”
Mr. Chretien’s sister, Lorraine Hoving, said she is “so thankful to learn he went peacefully,” but is unsure whether one can ever truly get closure.
“I look at it this way: It is the ending of a chapter but the book goes on,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “He will always exist in our hearts and true closure is when we meet him again in heaven.”
Rita and Albert Chretien, who own an excavating business, had been driving to a trade show and convention in Las Vegas when the van became stuck. Mr. Chretien, 59, set off on foot, taking with him the GPS unit from the vehicle and telling his wife he would seek help in Mountain City. No one would know his whereabouts for the next 18 months.
Meanwhile, Ms. Chretien carefully rationed her food, wrote in a journal and read the Bible as she awaited help. Hunters discovered her seven weeks later, weak but conscious.
On Saturday, the hunters first discovered Mr. Chretien’s backpack, then hiked up further to find his remains. He was about halfway to Mountain City, Det. Carpenter said.
Last month, Ms. Chretien completed a nine-day trip to Nevada to thank those who searched, and prayed, for her and her husband.