ELKO — A Canadian man who hiked away from his stranded van to get help near Merritt Mountain a year and a half ago walked for more than nine miles before collapsing and dying, according to Elko County Sheriff’s detectives.
The remains of Albert Chretien, who went missing along with his wife in March 2011, were discovered over the weekend by a pair of local elk hunters in a heavily wooded area in northern Elko County.
Albert Chretien's remains were found west of his stranded vehicle and on the north side of Merritt Mountain, Elko County Sheriff's detective Dennis Journigan said. Even though he was only 100 yards off the highway, the hike from the van would've been incredibly strenuous in 10 feet of snow, Journigan said.
"He was sort of traveling in the right direction," Journigan said, "but he took a wrong turn and went over a pass. He fell victim to the winter weather."
Elko County Sheriff’s detective Jim Carpenter said Chretien’s location was about seven miles from Mountain City, though the direct route goes over a mountain pass.
Chretien's remains were intact, Journigan said, and he was identified using personal effects in his pockets and backpack, including business cards and an address book.
Carpenter said there were no apparent injuries on Chretien, and that he likely died of exposure or exhaustion.
Elko hunters Rodney Thompson and Jay Doke found the remains about 4 p.m. Saturday. They hiked back out of the mountainous region to get cell phone service and contacted the Elko County Sheriff’s Office Sunday morning.
Early Sunday morning, searchers from the sheriff’s office met with the pair of hunters, who led them to the area. The team continued to search for all possible evidence, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office. After completing the search and processing the scene, the remains were collected and transported.
According to Carpenter, the hunters who found the body are still on their hunting trip and will return from the woods later this week.
Chretien's family was notified about the remains, which were transferred to Burns Funeral Home. Family members are on their way to Elko to pick up the remains, Journigan said.
Chretien and his wife Rita became stranded in northern Elko County while traveling from their home in British Columbia to a trade show in Las Vegas. Rita Chretien spent 48 days in their vehicle before being rescued on May 6. Her 59-year-old husband left their vehicle to walk back to State Route 225 in search of help getting their vehicle unstuck. Rita Chretien, who was 56 at the time, was on the verge of starvation when antler hunters riding ATVs spotted the couple’s van. She survived the nearly seven-week ordeal on trail mix, hard candy and melted snow.
She later described to members of the First Church of the Nazarene in Twin Falls, Idaho, how her faith sustained her through the cold weather with hardly any food.
She explained how they got lost because they were “foolishly following a GPS without a lot of experience.”
On March 22, 2011, three days after their van got stuck in the extremely remote area near the Idaho border, Albert Chretien set off on foot.
The sheriff’s office sent out teams of searchers on multiple occasions throughout the summer but were unable to locate any sign of Albert Chretien.
A public memorial service was held for him on April 14 in their hometown of Penticton, B.C.