Canadian couple Albert and Rita Chretien are seen in this Royal Canadian Mounted Police photo released to Reuters on May 7, 2011.
Credits: POLICE PHOTO
CALGARY -- Her life will probably always be filled with questions, but Rita Chretien finally has an answer to the most important one.
On Saturday, two Nevada hunters stumbled across human remains in a thickly wooded area roughly 11 kilometres from the spot where Rita spent 49 days, stranded in the wilderness.
Police have now confirmed the body is that of her husband, Albert Chretien, who left to find help after the Penticton, BC, couple's van ended up stuck on a remote logging road.
"It's final closure -- you can say goodbye, but there's always that part missing. This is the physical proof that he's not out there, wandering around somewhere," Rita told QMI Agency.
Of course, Rita knew that realistically, her husband did not survive the rescue attempt.
It was a different hunting group who found Rita back in April 2011, malnourished and near death, 49 days after their Chevrolet Astro became stuck along a rough forest trail.
Rita survived on candy, melted snow and prayer -- but it was a close call, and she had the shelter of the van to protect her.
Knowing the remote Nevada terrain and the cold temperatures -- dipping to -7 C the day Albert left -- Rita says it wasn't rational to expect her husband was still alive.
But Rita's heart held out hope for her high-school sweetheart.
"There's always that little glimmer of hope, even though it didn't seem realistic," she said.
"You still have hope."
But Albert didn't make it. After three days of waiting with Rita and the van, hoping someone would arrive to rescue them, the 59-year-old decided to seek help.
They'd both tried to walk out the second day, but Rita injured her knee and couldn't go further in the freezing rain, so the attempt was abandoned.
Thus, carrying a backpack and GPS device, and dressed in the warmest clothes he had, Albert set off hiking through deep snow towards Mountain City, a town some 35 km away.
The Chretiens had ended up in the boonies on their way to a heavy equipment trade show in Las Vegas.
Planning to stop for the night in a tiny place called Jackpot, Nev., it was the couple's GPS device which suggested the doomed shortcut that ended with the van skidding off the road.
A call for help by cellphone died before their location could be shared and, at that point, the couple was all alone.
They weren't due back until the end of the month, and the massive search operation that would eventually be launched was still more than a week away.
With no rescue expected, Albert marched off on what he hoped was a two-day trek to civilization, carrying half of the trail mix and candy which would later help keep Rita alive.
It was Albert's backpack that alerted hunters to his remains nearby.
The Elko County Sheriff's Department says two elk hunters found the body after coming across the pack in a secluded area of Merritt Mountain, about 11 kilometres west of the van.
Just up the mountainside they found Albert's remains, apparently intact and not scattered by wildlife, complete with identification.
"We're very relieved," said Rita, who was in the area just over a week ago, telling the story of her ordeal at a thank-you talk for those who helped search for the couple.
She told QMI Agency she believes her husband eventually grew exhausted trudging towards safety and "laid down to rest."
In April of this year, Rita joined more than 550 family members, friends and local dignitaries at Penticton's Bethel Church for a farewell service for Albert.
Now, she says there'll be a second goodbye for the man who tried his hardest to save her life.
"We'll have a service at the graveside, just the family," Rita said.