10/02/2012 01:35 EDT | Updated 12/02/2012 05:12 EST

Albert Chretien's Wife Rita Grateful For Nevada Efforts


PENTICTON, B.C. - The wife of a British Columbia man whose remains were found in the Nevada wilderness a year and a half after he went for help says she's grateful he trekked through deep snow for such a distance before laying down to die.

Rita Chretien said Tuesday that Albert Chretien hiked a great distance for her sake after their van got stuck in the mud on their way to Las Vegas from their home in Penticton, B.C.

Chretien, who survived for seven weeks on her own in the van before she was found, said she'd tell her husband: "'Thank you for your efforts.' "I know he did it for me and I was so grateful."

Chretien's body was found Saturday by elk hunters in Merritt Mountain in Nevada after they discovered his backpack. Police identified him through items in his pocket.

Deputy David Prall of the Elko County Sheriff's Office said Chretien had hiked more than 14 kilometres on a winding route and was within 10 kilometres of the community of Mountain City when the battery in the GPS he was using probably burned out and his path began to angle too far north.

"Once he lost the ability to use that GPS, due to the snow drifts, he couldn't tell where the road was," Prall said. "He did a lot of unnecessary climbing. He was heading literally for the summit of the mountain."

Chretien may have made it to the highway had he kept his bearings, Prall said.

Henry Chretien said his younger brother's body was found under a tree.

"He had placed his backpack where it could be seen. He lay down and under the protection of the tree for a much-needed rest and died peacefully in his sleep."

Chretien's clothed skeleton was intact and his blanket and other possessions were with him.

"We conclude that he was not attacked before or after his death by mountain lions or other predators," Henry Chretien said. "This brings us comfort. We had long concluded that Albert was in heaven already. We now have more insight into his last day here. We now have comfort and closure to this chapter in our lives."

On Sept. 23, Chretien's wife and four others returned from a nine-day trip to Nevada, where they thanked people who'd helped in the many searches for the lost Canadian and prayed for him.

Rita Chretien said searchers answered her many questions and she answered theirs. Many of them expressed the need to find Chretien's remains because they felt their missions were incomplete and they needed closure.

Six days later, Chretien's body was found.

Rita Chretien said she had already come to terms with the fact that her husband would not return.

"I think I can really say I've had closure for a long time but this was just really nice, to have that tangible evidence of how he passed away."

Rita Chretien spent 49 days in the couple's van and was found near death in the rugged mountains of northeastern Nevada by hunters aboard ATVs.

She later said her faith had sustained her to the point that just before she was found, she recited the "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer and accepted she may die.

Neil Allenbrand, the pastor at a Penticton church the Chretiens attended since 1999, said faith has played a big part in the entire story involving the Chretiens.

"I really do see this story as a story of Albert and Rita's faith," he said.

"They served the same lord who loved them both. As they parted that day they believed that whether they saw each other in a few days or not, they would eventually see each other in heaven."

The family has already held a private service for Chretien and will bring his remains back to Penticton, where he will be buried. (CKOR, The Canadian Press)