'It was like receiving somebody back we thought had died'

'It was like receiving somebody back we thought had died'
Rita Chretien was found after 7 weeks stranded in northern Nevada.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The condition of a Canadian woman who survived seven weeks in remote Nevada mountains by rationing trail mix and hard candy was upgraded to good Tuesday by doctors in Idaho.

Surrounded by family, Rita Chretien, 55, had a dinner of salmon, rice and green beans Monday night and a breakfast burrito with homemade salsa Tuesday.

"Her spirits are high," said Ken Dey, a spokesman for St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center. "The medical team is watching her closely but indicators of her recovery are very good."

The hospital said it wasn't certain yet when she would be discharged.

A search team was still looking for her husband, 59-year-old Albert Chretien.

The couple from Penticton, British Columbia, strayed onto a mountain road in northeastern Nevada en route to Las Vegas in March. Albert Chretien left their van on March 22 to find help and never returned. Searchers were holding out the slim hope he found shelter.

At the family home in southwestern Canada, friends were still coping with the shock of learning Rita Chretien was still alive and the anguish that her husband's whereabouts still weren't known.

"After seven weeks of prayer and anticipation for Al and Rita to be found, it was like receiving somebody back we thought had died," said the Rev. Neil Allenbrand of the Church of the Nazarene. The Chretiens have attended the church for about 12 years.

"We are a people of hope, so we believe he will either be alive with us, or alive with his Lord," Allenbrand said.

Albert Chretien is being sought by a posse of 30 people using horses and all-terrain vehicles to scour the rugged backwoods of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the largest forest in the lower 48 states at 6.3 million acres.

Hunters found Rita Chretien on Friday after they spotted her 2000 Chevrolet van mired in mud on a national forest road in Elko County, Nev., near the Idaho border.

Alone in the rugged and isolated country, she survived on a tablespoon of trail mix, a single fish oil pill and one hard candy a day, said her son, Raymond Chretien.

She reportedly lost 20 to 30 pounds during the time she was stranded, and family members and doctors agree she faced the prospect of death soon had she not been found.

Raymond Chretien said his mother relied on the Bible during her ordeal, returning again and again to Psalm 86, which includes the passage: "Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me."

Back in Penticton, members of the community remembered Albert Chretien as a pillar, volunteering his time and expertise as an excavating business owner to help build a church school.

Tony Friesen, who recently met Albert Chretien while working on the school, spent a week in April in eastern Oregon and southern Idaho, riding his motorcycle on rural back roads trying to piece together how and where the couple disappeared.

After seven weeks, he had been expecting the worst.

"I never thought, for one second, they would ever be found alive," Friesen said.

Rita Chretien told investigators she last saw her husband when he set off for help on foot with a GPS unit three days after they got stuck.

Searchers acquired a GPS similar to the couple's in an effort to retrace the route Albert Chretien told his wife he hoped to take to the town of Mountain City, 16 miles from the Idaho border.

So far, poor weather has grounded a search helicopter. For Tuesday, the National Weather Service forecast more of the same: Snow showers, a high near 45, with a northwest wind gusting as high as 20 mph.

"It's very rugged," said Lesli Ellis, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman. "We're hoping for the best. There are areas of shelter up there."

The Chretiens own a commercial excavating business and were headed to Las Vegas for a trade show. They were last seen on surveillance video March 19 while stopping for gas in Baker City, Ore., a small ranching town about two hours west of Boise.

They later became the subject of a search by Oregon State Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other law enforcement agencies. Vehicles and aircraft scoured the back roads that crisscross the remote region near the Snake River where they were last spotted.

The city of Penticton, on the shores of Okanagan and Skaha lakes just north of the Washington border, set up a fund to aid the search.

Numerous tips were received during the week after they went missing, but none indicated the route the couple had taken. The Canadian police major crime unit was involved because of concern the two were victims of foul play.

Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said Rita Chretien's discovery was almost unbelievable.

"If it's not a miracle, it's damn close to a miracle, that she was able to survive for that period of time," Ashton said. "We just hope it will be a similar outcome with Mr. Chretien."

 

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.