The drama unfolded as the Penticton, B.C. couple decided to take a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada on March 19th. They reached Baker City in eastern Oregon safely, where their images were caught by a store surveillance camera. That was the last known sighting of the couple until Rita was discovered by hunters, after the couple made the decision to do some sightseeing and explore back roads in the desert mountains of southern Oregon.
According to a report by Officer Dan Moskaluk of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the couple "got turned around off the main road that they should have been on." The weather in the area had included a lot of rain and snow over the previous month. Moskaluk noted that they weren't prepared for winter weather and that the couple doesn't go camping.
After the van got stuck in the mud, Albert and Rita hunkered down for a couple of days, and then he decided to try to go on foot to find help. That was the last anyone ever saw of Albert Chretien.
Rita stayed with the van and lived on water and small amounts of trail mix they had with them. Over the ensuing 7 weeks, she lost 20 to 30 pounds, according to family members who spoke with the news media afterward.
The search goes on for Albert, covering an area of 3,000 square miles, but up until now nothing has been found.
This kind of story keep popping up with vicious regularity, reminding us of the lessons that should be learned.
- Even though a long time may go by, and it feels like a waste of time to just sit and do nothing, it is almost always better to stay with the vehicle where you have shelter and at least some supplies to keep you alive until you are rescued. A vehicle is much easier for searchers to spot than a lone individual wandering on the open landscape.
- When you're in trouble, get signaling efforts going right away. Smoke by day, a bright fire by night. Use signal mirrors to flash the horizon, hoping someone might see the signal and investigate or call authorities.
- Carry electronic devices such as cell phones, and the ability to keep the battery charged up from the vehicle electrical system.
- The ultimate rescue device is a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or the SPOT Satellite Messenger (www.findmespot.com), which will call in the rescue helicopters within a few hours after the system is activated.
- Carry sufficient drinking water and food in the vehicle to keep you alive for an extended period.
- Carry blankets or sleeping bags in the vehicle, and equipment that gives you the ability to start fires.
- File a travel plan with friends and family members, detailing your itinerary. Plan "check in" times with those people, and leave instructions to notify authorities if you don't show up where you're supposed to be.
- If you decided to make changes to your itinerary, alert the folks you've left your travel plan with, so they'll know where you've gone and when you expect to be at your destination. That step alone would keep you from suffering through 7 weeks of a survival experiences, as Rita Chretien did.