After missing for seven weeks, Rita Chretien knew she was coming to a fork of life or death the day leading up to her rescue.
“She had a very clear indication there would be something on Friday, whether it was to go home to be with her saviour or be rescued, and it was to be rescued,” said her son Raymond Chretien at a press conference from St. Luke’s hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho where his mom is recovering.
“I think what the doctors said about her only having a couple of days, she was feeling that as well. It could be any moment where that if the rescuers weren’t there she wouldn’t be making it. I think a lot of it was mental preparation just getting to that point and being at peace about it either way.”
The 56-year-old woman who was found by hunters on Friday after being reported missing since March 19 when she left Penticton with her husband Al Chretien to attend a business convention in Las Vegas, survived on her faith and by rationing what little food and vitamins she had. The rescuers found Rita on a remote forestry service road near the Idaho and Nevada border.
“She was resting and she heard a noise and she bolted up. She was in the van, she stepped on the side sill on the van because she didn’t have any shoes on at that point and was waving at them. I don’t think they realized who she was and she had no idea people would know who she was. She convinced them she needed help and they went and got help for her,” said Raymond.
The question was asked just how did the couple end up on a remote forestry service road?
“It is to our understanding they took a few wrong turns. They wanted to take a scenic route and they ended up on a road that the map led them to believe, rightly or wrongly, was a much safer road than it was,” said Raymond.
Video footage from a convenience store showed the couple had travelled as far as Baker City, Oregon on March 19, but that was the last physical evidence police had. The Chretiens actually kept driving about five hours until they ended up on the forest service road and their Chevy Astro Van became stuck.
Three days later, on March 22, Al decided he would take their GPS and try and track his way back to a populated area to find help. It was the last time Rita saw him. Her son believed it to be about a 27-mile walk. Elko County Sheriff’s office and Owyhee County Sheriff’s office are continuing their search for Al. Ground crews are scouring the area where they found Rita, but aerial searches have been postponed due to bad weather.
It is believed Rita will make a full recovery and doctors from St. Luke’s said they do not see long-term kidney or liver issues right now.
“I would say that it might be a matter of days, maybe less,” said Dr. James Westberry of how long the woman had before she would have died in the wilderness.
“She obviously had the mindset of survival and that must have been something which helped her go as long as she has. Not giving up is the most important thing and everything else has to stem from that. I’m so thankful she had the spiritual base to keep going in the face of what for most people would be overwhelming odds.”
As of Tuesday, St. Luke’s upgraded Rita’s condition to good. Physicians treating her indicated she is enjoying solid foods, continues physical therapy and her spirits are high. The medical team is watching her closely, but indicators of her recovery are very good. Discharge details have not been confirmed at this time.
Raymond said his mom made the right choices in rationing the small amount of trail mix, that lasted her a week by eating a tablespoon a day, taking a few fish oil pills a day, having a hard candy a day and consuming the melted snow.
“We were praying for a miracle and boy did we get one. We got the biggest miracle we could have ever asked for and there is still one more to come in, so we are still praying for another one and the search continues for my father,” said Raymond.
It was a bittersweet Mother’s Day said Raymond, who believes his mom’s faith kept her alive.
“She is an amazing person, she is a giving person. It’s so hard to find words to describe her in the way I feel about her. She is genuine, she cares about people. I don’t know what to say, she is just amazing,” said Raymond.
Rita told him she read the Bible everyday, read other books she had a couple times over, took walks, kept a journal of her days and rested.
Handwritten notes by Rita, shown in photos from the sheriff’s department, were found in her van. They include the GPS reading of the location they were stuck at and states they had no cell service. It also reads Al took the GPS with him. Another note reads, “No food. No gas. Dead (battery). Lost my way!” Space on the piece of paper was running out and in smaller writing it reads “Al went to get help. Find Mountain City. Did not return!” with the last line reading “Maybe died along the way?”