The body of Albert Chretien — a Penticton, B.C., man who has been missing since 2011 when he went looking for help after he and his wife's van broke down in Nevada — has finally been found, CBC News has confirmed.
A pair of hunters came across Chretien's body on Saturday in a wooded area in Northern Elko County, Nevada officials said.
Chretien's wife, Rita, survived for 48 days in Nevada's wilderness, praying and subsisting on candy, trail mix and snow, before she heard rescuers in the distance last May and was able to alert them.
Det. Dennis Journigan of the county sheriff's department said Chretien's remains were discovered Saturday in a secluded area of Merritt Mountain, about 11 kilometres west from where he set off.
He had climbed about 600 metres in the snow.
His identity was confirmed by information in his wallet and business cards. Journigan said the remains were intact and hadn't been scattered by animals.
The couple got stuck on a snowy logging road in northeastern Nevada last spring after getting lost on a road trip from their home in Penticton, B.C. to Las Vegas.
Body found about 10 km from nearest town
Albert Chretien had reportedly left on foot to try to find help, while his wife stayed in their Chevrolet Astro minivan.
Officials told CBC News that Chretien had been heading in the right direction and was roughly 10 kilometres from the nearest town, but his journey was likely hampered by deep snow.
Sheriff's Deputy David Prall told The Associated Press that the battery on the GPS — which steered the couple in the wrong direction in the first place — probably burnt 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. He did a lot of unnecessary climbing. He was heading literally for the summit of the mountain … where he made it to was far beyond what he was equipped for.
"This man had tremendous courage and inner strength to get where he was," he said.
Prall also said it was possible that Chretien sought refuge in a "tree well, which is a natural depression in the snow around a tree that occurs in the mountains during the spring time … he may have taken shelter there and then just passed away due to exposure."
Journigan said the police department had been in touch with the family.
Rita Chretien was relieved to hear her husband's body had been found after so long, Det. Jim Carpenter said.
"She's obviously upset but she's also relieved that we recovered Albert's remains," he said.
Albert's sister, Lorraine Hoving of Birch Bay, Wa., told CBC News the family was relieved to "finally have closure."
"It does open the wound again, however, to the emotions," she said in an email statement. "It appears he went peacefully, which we are so thankful for … Apparently, it snowed hard that night so he must have simply laid down and went to heaven.
"We are all holding up fine, we are experiencing a great sense of relief and [are] thankful for closure."
Prall told The Associated Press the family were keeping secret the exact location of the discovery of the remains to keep it private for family visits.
Hunters first discovered Chretien's backpack
Local hunters Rodney Thompson and Jay Doke contacted the Elko County Sheriff's Office on Sept. 29, the sheriff's office said.
The hunters first found a backpack that Chretien carried when he left the van, containing a pen, spiral notebook and sunflower seeds, said Carpenter.
Then, they went up the mountain and discovered Chretien's body, he said.
"They know of the story, of what took place and they were in the general area," Carpenter said Monday. "They put two and two together and called us and said, `Hey, we think we found your missing Canadian guy."'
On the morning of Sept. 30, the elk hunters met with a police search team and led them to the body.
Chretien's remains are now at a funeral home, the sheriff's office said.
Once evidence and details are collected from the scene, the sheriff will decide when, and how, to send his body home, Journigan added.
With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press