A woman who was missing in the woods near Copper Canyon for nearly a week has been found alive thanks to the actions of two men from Lake Cowichan.
Irene Paquet, 67, was reported missing on July 30, having been last seen the day before, leaving Cowichan Neighbourhood House in Chemainus where she is a volunteer. It was not until the following Thursday, Aug. 4, in the afternoon that she was located by search and rescue teams and airlifted to Nanaimo for treatment.
Chad Bergman and Matt Pastuck were dirt biking on trails in the area that weekend — they’d left from Youbou on Sunday afternoon — when they came upon Paquet’s white Hyundai Accent. At the time they were unaware of the missing person.
“My first thought was that it was another stolen vehicle, which is usually [the case] when you come across something like that, but it didn’t make sense because it wasn’t burned down or smashed up,” said Bergman.
Pastuck took photos of it with his phone and they continued on their way, intending to report it later.
However, it wasn’t until Wednesday that Bergman saw a Facebook post from CNH reporting their missing volunteer.
“I instantly phoned my buddy to see if he had sent the photos in anywhere or if he still had them. Then I got him to send them to me and I just posted them on the site,” he said. “When I first saw [the post] about the white car I was like, ‘Oh s—…’”
Bergman worked with search and rescue and BRI Security to locate the vehicle, and after a couple wrong turns they found it. Bergman said in the future he plans to travel with a GPS device, as there was no cell reception in the area which prevented him and his friend from recording the location with their phones when they first stumbled upon Paquet’s vehicle.
“[I’m] glad everything worked out the way it did. If my riding partner wasn’t able to make it up there that day I probably wasn’t going to be going,” he said.
Paquet’s daughter, Celeste, said the family is doing fine now that’s Paquet has been located, and they are all very thankful and relieved.
“It’s a miracle. Just an amazing miracle,” she said. “She was out there for six complete days, five nights, and it’s just amazing. A miracle that she survived out there for that long.”
As of Tuesday, Paquet was still in hospital in Nanaimo. Her daughter said given all she’s been through, she’s doing surprisingly well. “She’s disoriented and very weak and very dehydrated but she’s communicating with us and shockingly better than anticipated,” Celeste said.
Paquet was found about two kilometres from her vehicle, which was stuck in a ditch by the side of a road.
Paquet had ended up on a logging road that she was unfamiliar with and got lost.
Celeste said her mother remembers little more of that day than coming across a locked gate and turning back.
Shauneen Nichols, search manager working with the Ladysmith Search and Rescue, said in cases like this, the missing person is not likely to be very far from their vehicle.
“We just start searching from the car. We have human trackers — extremely, extremely good trackers — we will put around the car first and get what’s called a direction of travel. That way we know which direction she’s headed,” said Nichols.
Also aiding in the search for Paquet was Cowichan Search and Rescue, search aircraft, Cowichan Valley Amateur Radio Association, and the RCMP (including a K-9 unit). The searchers began Wednesday evening as soon as the vehicle was located.
“You know what this Valley is like and the fact that her car was missing — until we can find that car, a starting point, we wouldn’t know where too begin in such a vast area,” said Nichols.
She emphasizes the commendable action taken by Bergman.
“The fact that that young man had the presence of mind to not only stop, check that vehicle out, [but to] take pictures… and report,” she said. “His recollection was excellent and he got us to that starting point.”
Nichols said the public’s vigilance goes a long way to creating positive outcomes like this.