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The Globe and Mail

Faith and melted snow kept B.C. woman alive for 7 weeks in wilderness

Penticton businessman Albert Chretien and wife Rita are shown in this undated RCMP handout photo. A B.C. woman who went missing en route to Las Vegas more than a month ago has been found alive, RCMP say. Hunters in Elko Country, Nevada, found Rita alive on Friday, RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk announced in a tweet. There is no word yet about the whereabouts of her husband.

RCMP/RCMP Handout/The Canadian Press

For seven weeks - 49 long days - Rita Chretien waited on a snowy logging road in the wilderness of northeastern Nevada to be rescued.

She had been with her husband, Albert, heading to Las Vegas from Penticton, B.C., in mid-March, when they took a wrong turn and their Chevrolet Astro got stuck.

They had been there for two days when Mr. Chretien, 59, headed out with the GPS in search of help. The weather was calm when he left but a storm blew in shortly afterward. He has not been seen since.

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Ms. Chretien, 56, was left behind, alone, in an alpine mountain forest, with not much more than their luggage, some books and a few snacks she had packed for travelling.

The days turned into weeks. Snow fell, temperatures dropped below freezing at night, heavy rains followed as March turned into April and then May.

When she was cold, Ms. Chretien dug into her suitcase and pulled out the clothes she had packed for Vegas. She ate her snacks - trail mix and candy - but it did not last long. She slept a lot, wrote in her journal and read.

When she was discovered by two hunters on all-terrain vehicles on Friday, she was conscious and surviving on melted snow and drinking freezing water from a nearby gushing stream. They gave her some food but she could not keep it down . She was air-lifted by helicopter to the hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho.

What really kept her alive was her faith and her refusal to give up, her son Raymond said Sunday at a press conference held at the hospital where Ms. Chretien is recovering.

"She's a Christian and she reads her Bible every day, and she had books she was reading and she had time to think and pray and just prepare for whichever outcome that was going to come," he said.

"She didn't know what it was, but she was prepared, and she had a very clear indication that there would be something on Friday, whether it was to go home to be with her saviour or to be rescued, and it was to be rescued," he said.

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Dr. James Westberry, the attending physician, said it was extremely rare for a person to go so long without food. It was understandable to call her recovery a miracle, he said. "It is very unusual that a person would survive this type of ordeal, let alone be doing this well at this time," he said.

Dr. Westberry attributed her success to her good health before she was marooned in the woods. Also, she was calm, in good spirits and had the mindset of survival.

"She didn't give up," Dr. Westberry said.

Her strong religious faith was also a factor, he added. "I'm so thankful she had the spiritual basis to get through this - what others would see as insurmountable odds," he said.

As the search for her husband continued with renewed vigour Sunday, Ms. Chretien, 56, was recovering in St. Lukes Magic Valley Medical Center, 1,100 kilometres south of her home in Penticton, B.C..

"I'm not tired any more, but I sure am hungry," she told hospital staff, according to Detective Jim Carpenter of the Elko County Sheriff's Department in neighbouring Nevada.

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Dr. Westberry said her strength was coming back nicely. Although she had inadequate nutrition for seven weeks and was dehydrated, the doctors did not see significant long-term issues. She will remain in the medical centre for several days but she is expected to have "a very good recovery."

Mr. and Ms. Chretien, who own an excavation business in Penticton, had been heading to a trade show in Las Vegas. They took a wrong turn east of Boise, Idaho, and, trying to find their way back to the highway, ended up on a logging road on the edge of the Humboldt National Forest, Detective Carpenter said.

The van was stuck in a ravine along Rowland Ranch Road, which goes out to some ranches and then loops back to the highway. During winter, the road is usually snowed over and impassable. The rescue team found boulders on the road that had fallen off the mountains during winter. Also, heavy rains this spring had washed out some parts of the road.

"I don't know if it was their GPS unit that steered them the wrong way or what. We're still trying to figure out that part. Our biggest thing now is we want to find Albert," Detective Carpenter said.

The Chretiens were last seen on March 19 on a gas station video in Baker City, Oregon. Ms. Chretien said her husband went looking for help on March 22. Authorities began searching for the Chretiens on April 4 in the vicinity of Baker City. Ms. Chretien was found about 500 kilometres away, in northeastern Nevada.

Search teams returned to the site in Nevada this weekend, after Ms. Chretien was found, to see if they could pick up the trail. The ground was still covered with some snow.

"This is a search. We are not turning anything into recovery mode. We're still searching for him," Detective Carpenter said.

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