Car wreck survivor hopeful for missing BC man
VANCOUVER - Ten years ago, Joe Spring careened off a highway and got trapped, immobile and without food for eight days, in British Columbia's rugged, heavily-forested Interior.
Now, Spring can imagine what is was like for a Penticton woman waiting for rescue in the desolate Nevada backcountry.
Rita Chretien was discovered barely alive on Friday, 49 days after getting stranded in a van stuck in mud in the wilderness. There's no sign of her husband who left weeks earlier to get help on foot.
"She's there and it's like, 'OK, is he coming back tomorrow, is he coming back now, is he coming back when? I don't know, here I am waiting,'" he said of the 56-year-old woman who carefully rationed trail mix, hard candy and melted snow.
"She gets out of the car and she walks around. OK. She gets back in the car. OK. Because it's like waiting for somebody who's going to pick you up. 'OK, are they coming? When are they coming? OK, they're late. OK."
Spring was 19 when an RCMP search helicopter from Kamloops found him injured, semi-conscious and incoherent inside his red car in May 2001. He had plunged off Highway 97 at a curve in the road near Williams Lake, B.C. and spent more than a week ailing in the wreckage.
Police called his survival "miraculous" at the time, a phrase now being used by the family of Rita Chretien as she recovers in an Idaho hospital. Authorities have been conducting a focused search for 59-year-old Albert Chretien, but it's been hampered by wind, rain and snow.
The couple had been heading to Las Vegas on a business trip and made wrong turns while attempting to take a scenic detour. Spring, now 29, had set out for Prince Rupert on the northern B.C. coast for a friend's graduation and fell asleep behind the wheel.
Family members of both pushed police hard to keep up the search. Spring's story was later made into a TV movie called "Eight Days to Live."
Spring has developed a keen interest in survival stories since his own ordeal, which left him recuperating in hospital for months and coping with residual brain damage. Since learning about the Chretiens, he's played out the long days and lonely nights scenario in his own mind. The best thing Rita did was keep a journal, he said.
"She was able to know when the sun was going up and keep track, instead of getting locked in her brain and thinking 'It's been a while' and getting discouraged," he said from his home in Aldergrove, B.C., where he lives with his parents and works at the local casino.
"I was joking around that she's writing 'It's 45 days, it's 46 days. Still lost, dot-dot-dot.'"
What astounded Spring most was the shear length of time Chretien spent hunkered down in the vehicle, noting he was glad she hadn't been badly hurt like he was in his accident.
"Forty-nine days of not being prepared for it is, like, crazy," he said, adding it must have taught her great patience.
"Everybody I've met that's ever been through anything close realizes that you really, really have to appreciate every day you have. Because in a blink of an eye it can be gone."
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