By Kristi Patton
Penticton Western News
Over a year and a half has passed since Penticton resident Al Chretien, who grew up in Terrace, went missing during a road trip to a business convention in Las Vegas.
On Saturday, two hunters in Elko County, Nevada found the remains of the man just 12 kilometres from where the vehicle he and his wife Rita had been travelling in got stuck on a backcountry road. The discovery has re-opened the tragedy for the Chretien family.
“While we are all relieved, it does open the wound again, so we continue to appreciate your prayers. We are thankful that it appeared he had just simply laid down and gently went to heaven. What a comfort. I do know heaven has never been the same since the day my brother Albert arrived,” said Lorraine Chretien-Hoving on a Facebook post thanking everyone for their thoughts and prayers.
Detective Dennis Journigan of the Elko County Sheriff’s Office said the missing man’s remains were found by elk hunters Rodney Thompson and Jay Doak.
“They actually found a backpack and looked through it and there was a logo on it and they recognized it was from British Columbia so they put two and two together,” said Journigan. “They didn’t have cell service there so they had to come out to where they could get it to call us and it was late by then so Sunday morning a detective and patrol officer went in with ATVs and were led into the site by the hunters.”
Albert and Rita Chretien, who also grew up in Terrace – her maiden name was Kumpolt – were reported missing on March 19, 2011. They were on their way to a business convention in Las Vegas and ended up on a remote forestry service road near the Idaho and Nevada border where their vehicle got stuck in the muddy, snowy terrain. It was just three days after the couple were reported missing that 59-year-old Albert packed up a bag, the GPS and left his wife with their van, attempting to walk back to State Route 225 in search of help.
After missing for seven weeks, Rita was miraculously found alive by a group of hunters. She said she had survived on a small amount of trail mix, fish oil pills, hard candy, melted snow and her Christian faith.
The search for her husband continued for months by authorities, search and rescue parties and friends and family. With no trace of the man found, in April of 2012 a memorial service was held at a Penticton church where more than 500 people gathered to celebrate Albert’s life.
“Al rarely missed a day without saying to me I love you,” said Rita during her tribute to her dearest friend and husband. “I have many good memories to cherish for the rest of my life. We were married 38 years. He truly was a gift of God to me. I miss him very much and I will see him again some day.”
Det. Journigan said Albert had headed in the right direction, and was about halfway to the nearest town. His fully intact body was found just 2.4 kilometres from one of the many dirt roads that dot that rugged countryside, but because of the of the conditions and time of year Journigan said few people would have travelled on that route.
“It’s steep, wooded terrain and where he was found was in a grove of trees,” said Journigan, who added he did not know if an autopsy was to take place on the remains. “It looks like he died of natural causes. He tried to probably get out of a snowstorm because there was a lot of snow in that country at that time of year. It looked like he tried to find some shelter and perhaps froze, we don’t know. It was a pretty tough winter and usually that country is pretty inaccessible until the snow starts to melt and the spring comes.”
Search parties had scoured the area where Albert was found, but Journigan said there was up to 10 feet of snow and his body was underneath it. At a public appearance in Baker City, Oregon less than two weeks ago, Rita told the crowd Albert had tried to make a 9-1-1 call from a cellphone and had gotten through. According to the story in the Baker City Herald, the call was cut off before he could tell the dispatcher everything first responders would need to know to get to them. Rita also said the couple tried to walk out of the area together on the second day of being stranded but had to return to their van because of the weather and Rita had injured her knee.
The Chretien family was immediately notified by a Elko County detective that Albert’s remains were found and transported to Burns Funeral Home in Elko County. Det. Journigan said the family expressed relief to that officer they spoke with.
“Absolutely they had a sense of relief, it has been a long and painful thing for them.”