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B.C. woman found in Nevada recovers in hospital while search continues for her husband

Penticton businessman Albert Chretien and wife Rita are shown in this undated RCMP handout photo. A B.C. woman who went missing en route to Las Vegas more than a month ago has been found alive, RCMP say. Hunters in Elko Country, Nevada, found Rita alive on Friday, RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk announced in a tweet. There is no word yet about the whereabouts of her husband.

RCMP/RCMP Handout/The Canadian Press

The discovery of a British Columbia woman missing in a remote area of Nevada for more than a month is a Mother's Day miracle, with a really sad twist, said a friend of the family.

Rita Chretien, 56, was found alive on Friday by hunters near the Humboldt National Forest, in northeastern Nevada. Her husband Al Chretien is still missing.

The couple vanished shortly after leaving their Penticton, B.C., home March 19. They were on their way to a trade show in Las Vegas, but didn't check into the hotel they had reserved.

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Rita survived 49 days in the wilderness on snow, a small amount of trail mix and prayer, said long-time family friend Dave Goertzen.

She lost about 30 pounds and they're working on balancing her electrolytes at a hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, Mr. Goertzen said.

"You couldn't have a better Mother's Day story. They had thought they weren't going to see their mother alive again," he said, referring to Ms. Chretien's three adult sons.

"So the kids are thrilled about that."

Lorraine Chretien-Hoving, Albert's sister was travelling to the hospital to be with the family on Sunday.

"I can hardly wait to hug Rita on Mother's Day. She is an example to us all of strength, courage, faith and much more. How did she overcome, amazing!!" she posted on a Facebook site dedicated to the couple.

The family still didn't have answers on the fate of Al Chretien. In the days after the couple's 2000 Chevrolet Astro van was stuck, Al, 59, left on foot to try to get help. He hasn't been seen since.

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It's snowing in the area where the man vanished and search conditions are poor, Mr. Goertzen said.

Mr. Goertzen, who has known the Chretiens for more than three decades, usually looks after the family's heavy equipment business when they're away, and has been helping out since the couple vanished.

While it seemed unlikely he could have survived all this time, Sheriff's Det. James Carpenter said Saturday they weren't ready to turn the rescue mission into a recovery operation.

"I want to wait to see what they come up with," Det. Carpenter told the Associated Press. "It's pretty nasty up there and there's no communication."

Deputies from Nevada and Idaho's Owyhee County continued searching the rugged river canyons and snowy mountain sides about 20 kilometres northeast of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest's Jarbidge Wilderness Area.

"I don't know how much snow is up there, but it's really wet and heavy," Det. Carpenter said from the northeast Nevada town of Elko, which sits on U.S. Interstate 80, roughly 128 kilometres south of where hunters spotted the Chretien's van on Friday.

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Because of the snow and mud, the only way currently to access the site is from Idaho, Det. Carpenter said. "We can't get in from the Elko side."

The last time the couple was seen was March 19 stopping for gas in Baker City, Ore.

The Chretien family didn't realize anything was wrong until the couple didn't return home as expected at the end of March.

In April, police agencies launched an extensive search covering 3,000 miles of roads, in Oregon.

Detectives in Idaho intended to meet again Saturday with Rita Chretien and her doctors, Det. Carpenter said.

During brief questioning on Friday, she told investigators her husband left the vehicle with a GPS unit on March 22 and told her he was walking to a state highway in an attempt to find somebody to help them.

One of her sons, Raymond Chretien, told The Oregonian the couple was sightseeing on back roads when their van got stuck in mud. Three days later, her husband set out on foot.

Officials said weather over the past month in that area has included snow, rain and chilly temperatures.

"I don't believe they were prepared for winter weather," Raymond Chretien said. "They don't go camping."

St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center updated Ms. Chretien's medical condition late Saturday, saying she is doing remarkably well given the ordeal she's been through.

"She has tolerated a small meal and her progress is very positive. The medical team is watching her closely, but indicators of her recovery are very good," the hospital said in a news release.

The remote mountainous area where the van was found is popular with elk hunters, campers and hikers. It is surrounded by 2,000- to 3,000-meter peaks and geographic features with names like Rattlesnake Canyon and Rocky Gulch.

"It's very remote and isolated," said Joe Doucette, a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildfire who fishes in that area. "It's rugged country, steep canyon walls. Difficult to get in and out of."

With files from The Associated Press

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