GPS led couple astray, says rescued woman's pastor
Published Wednesday, May 11, 2011 9:28PM EDT
PENTICTON, B.C. - A B.C. woman who survived 49 days in the Nevada wilderness has told her pastor she and her husband were led astray by their new global positioning device.
Rita Chretien is recovering from her ordeal in a Penticton hospital and saw a handful of visitors Wednesday, including Neil Allenbrand, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene.
Allenbrand told the Penticton Herald that Chretien is doing amazingly well, but she is struggling with the mystery of what happened to her husband Albert, who set out on foot after their van had become hopelessly stuck in the muck of the Nevada backcountry.
Chretien also explained how the GPS the couple had in their vehicle obviously took them in the wrong direction.
"She said to me: `When we first went off the road, we thought it would just be a short road and we'd be back to the main road right away. The next thing we know we turned down the wrong road and we were where we shouldn't be and it's dark and we can't find a way to turn around."
They became stuck March 19 on the road near the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, en route to Las Vegas. After three days, Albert Chretien took the GPS unit and a cell phone and went to get help. He has not been seen since.
Rita Chretien was found last Friday by hunters after seven weeks surviving on a spoonful of trail mix a day until that ran out, some hard candy, fish oil pills and water from melted snow and a nearby stream.
In a recording of the 911 call after she was found, a clearly incredulous Elko County law enforcement dispatcher expressed shock and disbelief that she had survived.
"She's been in it for a month?" the dispatcher asked when hunters called after finding Chretien. The call was released Wednesday.
The hunters had just ridden their ATVs nine miles over snow and mud to a ranch house to find a phone.
After spending since Friday in a hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, Chretien was transferred hom to Penticton on Tuesday.
The Interior Health Authority said in a news release Chretien is in relatively good spirits after being transferred from a hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, to Penticton, B.C.
"She is eating small meals and is tolerating an advancing diet," said the statement issued Wednesday.
Allenbrand spent 15 to 20 minutes with Chretien in her hospital room Wednesday morning and agreed Chretien seemed in excellent spirits, despite her ordeal.
"This is not just a miracle of physical survival, it's a miracle of emotional, mental and spiritual survival," he told the Herald.
"She just looks like the whole person that we know and love. It's just amazing to see her so well, even though she's struggling and dealing with the issue of (not) knowing where Al is."
"It just was a precious, precious time to be with somebody that has shown so much courage and so much faith and is so well."
The pastor said he told Chretien how news reports from Nevada indicated the ATVers who found her had taken a wrong turn, just as she and Al did. Rita responded that she had prayed someone might do just that.
"After seven weeks of prayer and anticipation of Al and Rita being discovered, it's like receiving someone back who died," he said.
The search resumed Wednesday for 59-year-old Albert Chretien. RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said police search dogs and ground and aerial searchers were working backwards from the location he was headed, towards where the couple's van was stranded.
Rescue teams were on the ground and in the air Wednesday after days of on-again-off-again searching due to bad weather.
Sgt. Kevin McKinney of the Elko County Sheriff's Office said about 20 searchers on horseback and all-terrain vehicles were scouring a network of dirt roads for Albert Chretien. McKinney said at least one airplane was flying over the area.
Through the health authority, the Chretien family offered thanks for the outpouring of well wishes they have received since the couple went missing, but they appealed for privacy.
"The family understands and appreciates the ongoing interest and the desire for further information. However, at this point in time, they're asking the media and public to please respect their personal request for privacy," said the statement from the authority.
Meanwhile, the pastor said Rita's story should be encouraging to everyone.
"All of us have `wilderness' experiences. All of us have times when we feel like we're utterly alone," he said. "Then we hear about somebody who has literally experienced that in a tangible way and yet survived it with great courage."
"All of us want to know how to do that."