Chemainus woman found; family hails ‘miracle’ (updated)

A woman who was missing in the woods near Copper Canyon for six days has been found alive and is recovering in Nanaimo.

A woman who was missing in the woods near Copper Canyon for six days has been found alive and is recovering in Nanaimo.

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.

Paquet’s daughter, Celeste, said the family is doing fine now that’s Paquet has been located, and that 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 Monday, 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.

Arlene Robinson, a spokeswoman for CNH, said the organization immediately put out a notice on their Facebook page when Paquet was reported missing.

“We’re so relieved and so thankful. We got over 32,000 hits on our Cowichan Neighbourhood House Facebook page,” said Robinson.

One of those people who noticed the posting was Chad Bergman of Lake Cowichan, who had been dirt biking the area trails with a friend, Matt Pastuck, when he came upon Paquet’s white Hyundai Accent on the weekend. Their first thought was it was a stolen vehicle, abandoned in the woods, but because it was in such good condition they took photos of it, planning to report it later.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that Bergman saw the CNH Facebook post.

“I instantly phoned my buddy to see if he had sent the photos in anywhere or if he still had them,” said Bergman. “I got him to send them to me and I just posted them on the site.”

Bergman worked with search and rescue and BRI Security to help 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 he and his friend from recording the location with their phones.

“[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.

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, take pictures… and report that,” 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.