August 10, 2016 - 8:30 AM
CHEMAINUS, B.C. - Const. Clay Wurzinger and his police dog had been methodically searching for hours along an old forestry road on Vancouver Island when Boomer picked up the missing woman's scent.
As the dog bounded over and down an embankment, a colleague said Wurzinger feared Irene Paquet, 67, was dead. But then he saw signs of life.
"And when she started verbalizing to him and then she reached out and grabbed his hand, (he said) it was like a shock going through him," said Const. Gary O'Brien with Nanaimo RCMP who relayed the conversation he had with Wurzinger on Tuesday.
Paquet, who lives in Chemainus, was last seen on July 29. Police said she was discovered six nights later, owing to the efforts of the dog handler and a dirt biker that culminated in her rescue last Thursday.
The ordeal began when Paquet turned down the wrong road as she returned from the grocery store. She drove about 45 kilometres along a winding, mountainous logging road into the backcountry.
O'Brien said at some point the woman tried to back up, but accidentally drove her car off the road. Finding herself stuck, she left the car to walk.
About three kilometres away she tripped and fell off a berm, sliding down about four to six metres, he said. The woman was surrounded by thick forest in an area called Copper Canyon.
"The reality is, here's the harsh part — people were not expecting her to be found alive," O'Brien said, recounting details Wurzinger told him because the constable was out on another operation on Tuesday.
"The weather co-operated, but she's getting on in age, she has significant medical issues that have to be treated every day. It wasn't looking good. You would almost say it was down to the hours."
The dog handler had been brought in by helicopter at first light Thursday after police were alerted a day earlier when a dirt biker spotted her car abandoned in the wilderness.
The biker took a photograph of the car and posted it to social media. He had noticed a post including the missing woman's photos on Facebook put up by an organization where she volunteered, Cowichan Neighbourhood House. Police were quickly summoned.
"It was pure luck. All the stars aligned," said Cpl. Krista Hobday of the North Cowichan-Duncan RCMP.
Wurzinger found the woman about 1:30 p.m. wearing several sweaters and lying on her back, said police.
"It really was amazing that she'd been out there on her own for so long. She didn't have any broken bones or anything like that. Anybody else laying in a ditch may not have survived," said Hobday.
Paquet was airlifted to hospital suffering dehydration and she was disoriented, said police, adding that a health condition may have contributed to her ordeal.
Arlene Robinson of Cowichan Neighbourhood House said everyone was grateful the dirt biker paid attention to the post about Paquet's disappearance. The woman is recovering and expects to greet visitors by Thursday, she said.
"She's her perky self," Robinson said. "It's wonderful to see she's coming out of it so well."
Hobday and O'Brien both said the public can learn one key lesson from the incident.
"Stay with your vehicle," Hobday said.
— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver, follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016