Search continues Sunday for missing Canadian man

Search continues Sunday for missing Canadian man »Play Video
Albert and Rita Chretien

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Search teams continued to scour canyons and mountainsides Sunday for the missing husband of a rescued Canadian woman who survived for seven weeks on just snacks and water after they became stranded in remote northeastern Nevada.

Rita Chretien, 56, was discovered on Friday in the couple's van which was mired in mud on a national forest logging road in Elko County, authorities said.

The woman, who lost considerable weight but was hospitalized in fair condition, told investigators the last she saw 59-year-old Albert Chretien on March 22, when he set off for help on foot with a GPS unit just a few days after they got stuck, Elko County Sheriff Jim Pitts said.

More than a dozen deputies from Nevada and Idaho's Owyhee County returned for a second day of searching, sheriff's Detective James Carpenter said. The teams were scouring rugged terrain along the northern border of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Bad weather prevented them from using aircraft Saturday and would probably prevent it again Sunday, Carpenter said. Because rain and high winds are forecast for next couple of days, it could be midweek before aircraft may help with the effort.

Carpenter told The Associated Press on Sunday the search could be take time because of the various directions that Chretien may have taken once he set out for help.

Though weather in recent weeks has been harsh and there's been no sign of the man, Carpenter said crews weren't ready to turn the rescue mission into a recovery operation.

But searchers were hampered in their efforts by the location, where cell phone service is nonexistent and terrain is rough.

"That area is pretty remote," said Tom Montoya, U.S. Forest Service district ranger for the area. He described it as "miles from anything. It's kind of canyon lands, a lot of gorges out there" that would make it easy to get lost.

Rita Chretien was taken to St. Lukes Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, which listed her condition as fair. Officer Dan Moskaluk, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia, said she reportedly was up and walking around.

Moskaluk told the AP that her family reported she lost 20-30 pounds, living off "water and small amounts of trail mix."

Dr. James Westberry at St. Luke's said Sunday that Rita Chretien was withing days of drying from lack of nutrition when she was found. She is now on a liquid diet and is very weak, but making progress.

The Chretiens disappeared in late March during a trip to Las Vegas and were last seen in Baker City, Ore.

"This is a miracle," Raymond Chretien, the couple's son, told The (Portland) Oregonian in a telephone interview.

Detectives in Idaho intended to meet with Rita Chretien and her doctors again over the weekend, Carpenter said.

During brief questioning Friday, she told investigators her husband was walking to State Highway 225 in an attempt to find help.

That highway is more than 10 miles away from the area where hunters found the van on Friday. It forced search crews to consider the possibility Albert Chretien was confused and did not walk in that direction.

"I'm trying to figure out how the van ended up where it did," Montoya told AP. "It doesn't make sense."

The van was found along the border of the national forest and Bureau of Land Management land about 5 miles south of the state line, where Idaho's high desert collides with Nevada's snow-capped Independence Mountains.

Rivers and streams with headwaters mostly in the wilderness area drain off 10,000-foot peaks to the north on their way to the Snake River.

"I don't know how much snow is up there, but it's really wet and heavy," Carpenter said. Because of the snow and mud, the only way currently to access the site is from Idaho, he added. "We can't get in from the Elko side."

The couple left their Penticton, British Columbia, home on March 19, and reached Baker City in eastern Oregon that afternoon, where they were captured on a store's surveillance camera.

Raymond Chretien told The Oregonian they made it to Nevada later that day, sightseeing on back roads when their van got stuck in mud. Three days later, Albert Chretien set out on foot.

Weather over the past month in that area has included snow, rain and chilly temperatures and family members said the couple weren't avid campers.

The Chretiens were reported missing when they didn't return home March 30.

The RCMP, Baker City police and other agencies mounted a search in April but failed to turn up any sign.

Moskaluk described it as an extensive search covering 3,000 square miles "from March 31 onward."

He said the family is well regarded in Penticton and operates a heavy equipment excavation business.

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Associated Press reporter Josh Loftin contributed to this story from Salt Lake City.