PENTICTON, B.C. - A British Columbia woman who survived 49 days in the Nevada wilderness says her husband was frantic before leaving her in a desperate bid to get help after their van got stuck in the mud.
Rita Chretien said she and her husband, Al Chretien, used a tiny snow shovel to get their van unstuck but ended up in a worse situation.
The couple then walked 7.5 kilometres — in the wrong direction as they relied on a GPS — before her swollen knee gave out and they were forced to return to the van, she said.
Chretien said in an interview airing Sunday on the Toronto-based Vision TV show "Context with Lorna Dueck" that her husband called 911 several times for days but kept getting cut off.
The Penticton, B.C., couple's problems began with the GPS that led them off track when they decided to take the backcountry on their way to a trade show in Las Vegas last March.
They soon realized they were in deep trouble.
"We prayed and we cried and he went," Chretien told Dueck. "It was very emotional. We hadn't cried so deeply for years, and I tried to compose myself so it would be easier for him to go."
"We just couldn't believe it happened," she said. "We prayed and said, 'Lord, what are we going to do now?"
Chretien's husband never returned after setting off on his own three days after the van got stuck, and she faced the next seven weeks alone, hungry and dying.
"I think he must have passed away or frozen to death," she said.
"But there's still that inkling of hope that maybe something really unusual happened, maybe he is safe somewhere and just surviving, still lost. I just can't seem to put it out of my mind until I'm sure."
During the Context interview, Chretien read from her journal, which she said she wrote to explain to her adult children what had happened in case she and her husband were found dead.
Chretien, 56, rationed some trail mix, along with a bit of candy, and ate a fish oil tablet every day.
She drank water from a nearby stream after letting it sit in some bottles to strain the sand, and also used it to have communion.
Mostly, she relied on her faith and read her Bible and two books.
"There was a few times where I really broke down and bawled my eyes out for an hour or so," she said. "But other than that I just kept my mind on what I needed to do and I enjoyed my books and just thought I'll pass the time, and as long as it takes I'm just going to hang in there."
As she began to nearly starve, Chretien said she tried eating some sprigs that were hard to swallow and imagined some macaroni or a hot dog on a plate.
On Day 49 of her ordeal, the day three hunters rescued her, Chretien thought she could die.
"I went down to get water and it was difficult to get back so that I felt that I was almost crawling back, and I thought, "Oh no, what's happening to me? My chest was sore and I was out of breath. I thought I was going to have a heart attack," she said.
"I just barely made it back to the van and I collapsed. And I just rested for a while and I decided, 'Well, I'm not feeling any better so maybe I'm going to die. So I got myself cleaned up a little bit and got my blanket around me, lay on the back bench of the van and I prayed the little child's prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep."
Then she was awoken by the sound of ATVs.
"I jumped to my feet. I didn't even realize I was awake, and I flagged them down," she said of the hunters who'd taken an unplanned route while hunting for elk antlers.
Chretien, who now runs her husband's excavating business, said she wants to thank the many people who prayed for her before she was found alive.
"When I found out how caring, even strangers, many strangers were, across the country, across the States and even Africa (and they) were praying for us, I'm thinking wow, that's amazing."
Chretien told The Canadian Press that she will not be speaking further about her experience for a few months as she continues to deal with her emotions.
Nevada hunting expert Blain Jackson said traffic will soon increase in the area where Al Chretien went missing.
"It might be somebody will find the remains of him soon because all of those hunters in there for elk and mule deer are getting ready to open." (Vision TV)