As It Happens5:18This 77-year-old spent a night alone on a mountain. He raised 30K for his rescuers
Thierry Vrain and his wife hike a challenging trail in B.C.’s Strathcona Provincial Park every year, in an effort to prove that despite being in their later years, they’re still young. But on their most recent ascent of Mount Becher, the 77-year-old got a bit more than he bargained for.
“It’s a very steep mountain. We do this every year, my wife and I and a few friends,” the Courtenay, B.C., resident told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
“The trail is difficult and sometimes you’re on all fours climbing up and down, so it’s very steep.”
After a detour gone wrong, Vrain got lost and spent the night in the woods alone. But the Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue came to his aid.
Vrain is doing well now, and last week he showed his appreciation for that team by organizing a fundraiser that raised $34,000 for the group — and he hopes more people will do the same.
“They absolutely need fundraising, they need money,” said Vrain.
Strayed off the path
The Mount Becher trail is terrain Vrain and his wife know well. But this year, with no one else from his hiking group nearby, he made a mistake when he took a detour around a difficult spot. It appeared to be a trail, but he quickly realized it was not.
He started sliding down a steep incline, and wasn’t going to be able to make it back to the main trail.
“I knew I was in serious trouble right there.”
His wife and others were a few minutes behind him, so they didn’t realize Vrain had gone off trail until they caught up with others from the group.
Meanwhile, Vrain was tumbling further and further away from the trail.
“I was just fighting for my life,” Vrain said. “I was going down the mountain … I had no idea where I was. All I knew is I was going down, down, down.”
After three hours, Vrain was exhausted and hurt. It was late in the afternoon and he had no idea if he was going to be found.
Lost at night
Vrain had hope that he would be rescused when he heard a helicopter circling nearby. The Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue team was looking for him after his wife called 911.
A member of the rescue team said, by megaphone, that they were coming to get him. But the crew didn’t show up and, as the sun went down, Vrain’s hope dropped.
He was stuck alone in the wilderness for the night. He says he hurt his back, and he was dehydrated, disoriented and cold. But there was one small consolation: the constellations.
“The stars were absolutely amazing because there was no light, no street lights,” said Vrain.
In the morning, Vrain once again heard the sound of a helicopter. Then came the true relief.
“Two people and a big dog arrived and found me, and they radioed right away and said, ‘He’s alive.'”
Vrain was airlifted to a hospital where he was finally reunited with his wife.
Support for search and rescue
Vrain says he owes his life to Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue. Wanting to give back, the couple held a fundraising event on their farm. They expected maybe 50 people to show up, but 170 came. Through a silent auction, donations and $10,000 from Vrain himself, they raised about $34,000 to donate to the crew.
Vrain said it was odd to deliver the money to them. People were thanking him, meanwhile he was the one who wanted to show his gratitude.
Paul Berry, search manager and president of the team, said that in his 25 years on the team, he has never experienced such gratitude.
“It was quite incredible, the amount of energy and the passion from those involved to give back and say thank you to the volunteers who had rescued Thierry,” said Berry.
Berry says they do receive government funding but it isn’t enough to cover their budget. The organization relies on donations, he added.
Vrain hopes that after hearing his story, more people will be thankful for their local search and rescue team, and will find ways to support them.
“It’s not just about getting lost in the mountains. It’s about flood and fire and anything. You get lost on the water, in the forest, they find you, they save your life,” said Vrain.
“I think everybody should be contributing something.”