A Vancouver Island woman rescued from one of the most remote beaches on the West Coast nearly a week after she and her husband were shipwrecked is lucky to be alive, rescuers say.
Her 67-year-old husband is believed to have drowned during the ordeal.
Search and rescue officials say it was a stroke of luck that anyone even found the 62-year-old woman, who was tossed into Tian Bay when the skiff she and her partner were using overturned about May 31.
Graham Island, Haida Gwaii
The man and woman, who were both from Courtenay, B.C., had anchored their larger boat at Otard Bay about eight days ago. The next day, they decided to take their skiff to nearby Tian Bay, on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, according to Jeff Olsen of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre
"The next day, on the Monday, they went in their small aluminum launch with a small outboard, to go beachcombing," he said.
But the skiff overturned, and the couple weren't wearing lifejackets, despite their availability on the small boat. The woman managed to hold on to the boat and, as it drifted closer to shore, swim to the beach. Her partner didn't make it, she later said.
Once on the beach, which is just south of Fredrick Island on the west coast of Graham Island, the woman was unable to send out any sort of distress signal.
She survived six days on one granola bar, a banana, water from a stream, and a fire she lit with a disposable lighter. Officials describe the area as extremely isolated, with nothing but steep cliffs, surf-pounded beaches and thick rainforest right to the waterline.
Lucky fishing boat drops anchor
Then at 2:15 a.m. PT Sunday, a commercial fishing boat dropped anchor in Tian Bay, said Olsen.
"The fishing vessel reported what he thought was a flare," he said.
But it wasn't a flare.
"She had made a fire on the beach and was throwing embers and such so she would be spotted."
The coast guard was called in and found the woman in shock but walking and talking. She was airlifted by helicopter to the hospital in Queen Charlotte City, where she is reported to be recovering well.
"She had survived on the beach for six days and was in remarkable condition," he said, noting the area is so remote, there is little boat traffic. She was extremely lucky to be spotted, he said.
"There's not a lot of vessel traffic in the area, and if there is, they are not anywhere near the shoreline, typically," Olsen said.
"In another month or so there might have been a lodge boat from one of the local fishing lodges and stuff, but as it stands, it's pretty much 25 miles south of Langara Island on Haida Gwaii, so very isolated."
Search continues for man
Because the woman's partner is presumed to have drowned, RCMP are now handling the file, Olsen said.
They say a search is underway for the man, who is described as Caucasian, five feet 10 inches tall and 154 pounds. He was wearing a black leather jacket and hiking boots.
Police are working with the woman to determine exactly when the incident occurred and just how long she may have been waiting to be rescued.
The couple's names have not been released. Police have been in touch with their families.