LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 56 year-old Canadian woman stranded in a van for seven weeks on a remote dirt road in northern Nevada survived on snow and some trail mix until hunters discovered her, authorities said on Saturday.
With Rita Chretien recovering in an Idaho hospital following her rescue on Friday afternoon, searchers are looking for her husband, who left the van seeking help, said Corporal Dan Moskaluk, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Rita Chretien’s family has spoken to her by phone.
“They related that they were very relieved to see how much she sounded like herself,” Moskaluk told Reuters. “It’s obviously very emotional and bittersweet, given that the husband is still outstanding.”
Albert Chretien, 59, left the couple’s Chevrolet Astro van to seek help, three days after they got stuck in the mud on March 19 on a forest service road 20 miles from the nearest highway, in Elko County in northern Nevada, Moskaluk said. The area is near the border with Idaho.
The Canadian couple had left their home in Penticton, British Columbia, to attend a Las Vegas trade fair for their construction excavation business.
They were last seen on March 19 buying gas in Baker City, Oregon, and Moskaluk said they got stranded on the dirt road in Elko County, at an elevation of 5,200 feet.
The area where the van was stranded has been blanketed with snow and rain in recent weeks. It was unclear if the couple was sight-seeing, or simply got lost.
“By the sounds of it, they essentially got turned around,” Moskaluk said.
Rita Chretien, survived on snow, water and a small amount of trail mix, Moskaluk said. The area where she was discovered is so remote that the hunters had to backtrack for nine miles before they regained cell phone service to call for help.
Before her discovery, the woman’s family believed both Rita Chretien and her husband were dead, he said.
Moskaluk added that he has never before dealt with a case where a stranded person survived that long without help. “We were just awestruck with it, just dumbfounded,” he said.
Following her seven-week ordeal, Rita Chretien was airlifted to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center in southern Idaho, where she is listed in fair condition, said hospital spokesman Ken Dey.
Her family was flying over to reunite with her, Dey said.
The Elko County Sheriff’s Department and the nearby Owyhee County Sheriff’s Department in Idaho were searching for Albert Chretien on Saturday.
A search by airplane was called off because of bad weather and poor visibility, and about a dozen rescue workers were conducting a ground search for the man, said Owyhee County sheriff’s deputy CJ Stappler.
The Chretiens were first reported missing in late March by family when they failed to return home to Canada as planned. In the first two weeks of April, authorities conducted air and ground searches in eastern Oregon, Moskaluk said.
The family even hired a private plane to aid in the April search operation, but Moskaluk said that because of the vast geography it was “like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Editing by Greg McCune