Doc: Woman stranded for weeks was close to dying

AP News
Posted: May 09, 2011 4:53 AM
Doc: Woman stranded for weeks was close to dying

Mother's Day was a "miracle" for Rita Chretien's family after the 56-year-old Canadian was rescued from a remote area of Nevada, where she nearly starved to death while stranded for seven weeks.

The Penticton, British Columbia, resident was found Friday by hunters who spotted her van mired in mud on a national forest road in Elko County, Nev., near the Idaho border. Her husband, 59-year-old Albert Chretien, remains missing after setting off on foot March 22 to get help.

Alone in the rugged and isolated country, Rita Chretien survived on just water and the snacks they carried for a road trip, but family members and doctors agree that the end was approaching.

"We got the biggest miracle we could ever ask for," her son, Raymond Chretien, said Sunday.

He told reporters at St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, where his mother was being treated that the family was fortunate be able to spend Mother's Day with her.

"But there's still one more to come in," he said of the ongoing search for his father.

Doctors said Rita Chretien is in fair condition now, but doctors confirmed she had been getting close to death when rescue came.

She was getting near the end," said Dr. James Westberry. "We are familiar with starvation in our line of work, but this is a once in a lifetime for us. She obviously had the mindset of survival and that must have been something to help her go as long as she did."

Her son said she sensed her ordeal was about to come to an end a day before she was found.

"She had a very clear indication," Raymond Chretien said. "She got ready on Thursday to be with her Savior or rescued."

His parents ran into trouble in the remote area in northeastern Nevada during a scenic drive to Las Vegas. Rita Chretien told investigators she last saw her husband when he set off for help on foot with a GPS unit a few days after they got stuck.

Raymond Chretien said that during the seven weeks, his mother got out of the van and walked every day.

"She had books she was reading," he said. "She had time to read some twice."

That remoteness and rugged terrain have made it difficult for crews looking for her husband. Elko County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin McKinney said roads in the area are a "spider web" that can be confusing to navigate, and crews were not sure which direction Albert Chretien headed after leaving his wife.

McKinney also said rain, snow and high winds forced searchers to end their efforts early Sunday, but that deputies will return Monday if weather allows. Poor visibility meant aircraft couldn't be used in the search, and travel was difficult because the roads have been washed out or covered with rock slides.

Meanwhile, Westberry said Rita Chretien is on a liquid diet and still very weak, but making progress. She had reportedly lost 20 to 30 pounds since she was stranded.

"I've not seen her walk at this time," he said. "It will be some time before she gets to a place we consider baseline."

Westberry said she ate snacks the couple had with them for the trip, rationing her supply, and that when she first arrived at the hospital, she was calm and able to communicate well.

"My impression was very pleased and happy that she was doing as well as she was," he said. "We're very optimistic that she will have a good recovery. The fact that she was in fairly good baseline health to begin with was in her favor."


Associated Press writer Josh Loftin contributed from Salt Lake City.