It was the mysterious disappearance of an ordinary Canadian couple who were on their way to a trade show in Las Vegas. Today Rita is STILL hoping to find her husband Al. For the first time, she tells her remarkable story of what went wrong. Of being lost in the Nevada wilderness, of failed attempts to dig out, of failed attempts to navigate, and of seven desperate weeks alone, with no help in sight. Lost. We'll put it in Context.
Albert Chretien Remembered
Eulogy by Deborah Pfeiffer, Castanet.ca - April 15, 2012
On the day Albert Chretien left his beloved wife behind in the Nevada wilderness, he lifted their van and put boulders under it to make sure she had a safe place to stay.
Then he walked off in search of help and has not been seen since.
The man who loved life, but loved his wife Rita the most, was remembered by around 550 family members, friends, local dignitaries and those who simply knew the couple’s story at a celebration of life at Penticton’s Bethel Church on Saturday afternoon.
“This was partly closure for us, but also partly to celebrate his life because we all loved him so much,” said Rita Chretien, as she stood in the church sanctuary.
The Penticton couple, who own an excavating business, were on their way to a trade show in Las Vegas last March, when they left the highway and ended up on a remote forest road in northeastern Nevada.
On March 22, three days after the couple’s van got stuck on the muddy road, Chretien, 59, set out with a cell phone and GPS unit for Mountain City, a couple of day’s journey from where they were.
After surviving on candy, trail mix and water from a nearby stream for seven weeks, Rita, 56, was found by a couple out looking for elk antlers.
But despite an intensive search there were no traces of Chretien and Elko County sheriff’s investigators have said they believe he is dead.
Life has carried on for the family, and now a little over a year later they found the strength to gather with others and share memories.
In the eulogy Henry Chretien, Albert’s brother, described him as an adventurous man of integrity.
He was generous too, always willing to give gifts to his employees and others in the community.
There was laughter when he talked of his brother being such a creature of habit that he could not go a day without his favourite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Nor is it surprising he ended up making a living as an excavator. From the time he was a young boy in Terrace to his adult years in Penticton he loved digging in the dirt.
But perhaps more than anything, he was a man of deep faith. He and Rita spent the first part of each day reading their bibles.
“Often Al would say this world is not my home, I am just passing through,” said Henry Chretien, before encouraging the crowd to say yippee three times followed by praise God.
Two of his sisters described his sense of humour and the lasting impact Chretien had on their lives, while his son Raymond Chretien thanked those involved in the search for his father.
“We are all used to seeing tragedies in the media, it is different when it happens to you,” he said. “We were blessed by seeing people on both sides of the border take time to work to search for my parents, and I thank the RCMP and the American authorities and search and rescue groups.”
Rita Chretien, was composed and elegant, as she quietly spoke of her husband’s kindness, compassion and boundless enthusiasm.
“A typical day was he jumped out of bed, sang in the shower, went downstairs, grabbed his lunch bucket with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and went to work. It was never a dull moment with Al around,” she said. “He truly was a gift from God to me and I will see him again someday.”
The emotional day even led a Penticton triathlete who had never met Chretien to stand and offer words of support to the family.
“I never knew Al or the family I am just someone who watched the newspaper coverage, but I think about the strength that Al had and I will carry it in my heart,” said Andrea Gardiner.
Family members and others in the crowd were also comforted by singing songs Chretien loved, the showing of a video of his life and the words of Rev. Neil Allenbrand.
“Al lived every moment to the fullest with the intention the best is yet to come. We should dare to live this way,” he said. “And Al’s story is incomplete, it is still being written and I know that someday it’s going to be better.”
As she sat quietly outside the sanctuary after most of those gathered had left, Rita quietly thanked all who had come to show support.
“Everyone’s love will sustain me through the most difficult days,” she said.
She and others still hope someday there will be a sign of her missing husband.
“It would be great if they could find his remains, because I guess everyone needs complete closure,” she said. “You have to be patient.”
Lost for 49 days in Nevada wilderness
Rita's neighbour who activated the search for Rita & Al
Hunt expert, still searching for Al Chretien