SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Searchers have found no sign of a 59-year-old Canadian man whose wife survived seven weeks stranded in the Nevada wilderness, authorities said on Monday.
Albert Chretien and his wife Rita Chretien, 56, were traveling from Boise, Idaho, to Jackpot, Nevada, on March 19 when their van got stuck in the mud on a primitive forest road in northern Nevada.
Albert Chretien has not been seen since he went for help three days into the ordeal, carrying a cell phone and hand-held GPS device.
Rita Chretien survived by drinking water from a nearby stream and rationing a small supply of trail mix, candy and a fish oil-based skin product until she was found on Friday by hunters looking for antlers.
An air ambulance flew Rita Chretien to a hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, on Friday as rescue crews began scouring the scrublands and rugged hills of Nevada’s high desert to search for her husband.
Elko County Sheriff Jim Pitts, whose office is heading the search, said rescuers are holding out hope of finding her husband somewhere in the 6.3 million-acre Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
“You really don’t know what his chances are and I’d hate to say one way or another given the very amazing survival story of his wife,” Pitts said.
Searchers on horseback and ATVs were being aided by a helicopter and search-and-rescue dogs on Monday as crews on foot sought to retrace the route Albert Chretien may have taken to reach Mountain City, Nevada, about 20 miles to the southwest.
Deputies from neighboring Owyhee County, Idaho, combed canyon lands on Saturday as part of an operation that spans more than 500 square miles.
Owyhee County Sheriff Daryl Crandall said the Chretiens were stranded about 10 miles from a ranch, which Albert Chretien could have reached if he had backtracked instead of striking out for a town in the opposite direction.
The Chretiens traveled from Boise toward Jackpot as one leg of a trip from their home in Penticton, British Columbia, to Las Vegas.
Authorities say the couple likely consulted their GPS for the shortest distance between Boise and Jackpot and followed a route that led into the Nevada backcountry with unmaintained roads and no cell phone coverage.
An unconfirmed report on Sunday suggested the Canadian man’s GPS unit was strung on a fence near a ranch. But Elko County Detective Sergeant Kevin McKinney said on Monday that a description of the device didn’t appear to match the GPS.
McKinney said Rita Chretien left a note in the Chevy Astro with instructions about how to contact family in the event of her death.
He likened the search for the husband to looking for a needle in a haystack but said: “It’s almost like someone was watching over her. Maybe someone is watching over him.”
Rita Chretien was upgraded on Monday from a liquid diet to solid foods for six small meals a day and was in high spirits, according to a hospital statement
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan