Elderly couple safe after 'miraculous' rescue from Manitoba backcountry

·3 min read
Brian and Evelyn Watt were rescued by a Hutterian volunteer team after being stuck overnight in the southern Manitoba bush.  (HEART Team/Facebook  - image credit)
Brian and Evelyn Watt were rescued by a Hutterian volunteer team after being stuck overnight in the southern Manitoba bush. (HEART Team/Facebook - image credit)

An elderly Morris, Man., couple who spent the night in the dense bush after their car got stuck on a washed-out section of back road are back at home and doing well.

And one of the people who helped track them down after seeing an RCMP missing-persons bulletin about their disappearance describes finding them as nothing short of "miraculous."

Evelyn Watt, 83, and her husband, Brian, 88, set off on a drive Thursday afternoon with no particular destination in mind. "We were on this sort of trail in the bush and that's where it ends up," Evelyn told CBC on Saturday.

The car fell into a washout on the road and wouldn't budge. Evelyn said the couple got out and walked in search of help. The terrain grew rougher to the point that walking turned to crawling in the bush, and Brian got far ahead of her, she said. She turned back.

"I wasn't having any good luck at all," Evelyn said. "Everything is sore by this time and you're trying to walk where you can't walk.

"I ended up spending the night in the car and he was out in the bush," she said. "I'm feeling like, what is going to happen? Is anybody going to find us here? What will we do?

"It was a bit scary," she said.

Then she looked up. The couple's luck was about to change.

Volunteer search group steps up

After seeing a Facebook post about the couple, Manuel Maendel, a volunteer with the Oak Bluff Hutterite Colony-based Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team (HEART), wondered if there was a way to help.

He says the initial plan was to scan a section of nearby river with sonar, but his brother Jack was willing to take a small plane up to see if anything could be spotted from the air. His wife, Janet, and other sibling, Paul, also packed in to put more eyes on the land below, he said.

After about an hour and a half of flying patterns over Morris and many different parts of the surrounding area, Janet spotted a vehicle jammed into a ditch. It was only visible for mere seconds on a flyover because of the dense bush.

"We were like, 'Guys, this could be it,'" Maendel said. After taking GPS readings and photos, they landed, retrieved their emergency response van and rushed back to the scene while calling 911 for help along the way.

"The closer we came, the more dense the brush got.... We just pushed through," Maendel said.

HEART Team/Facebook
HEART Team/Facebook

Evelyn, he said, "seemed very happy to see us." Brian, she told them, had been gone all night. Paul and Janet set out to look for him.

They found him about half a kilometre away, not moving, lying in a ditch. He became more responsive, but it took the help of RCMP officers to get him back to the couple's car and safety.

The couple were taken to hospital and spent the night there before returning home Saturday.

"By the grace of God, it's pretty much miraculous every step of the way," Maendel said.

By virtue of the underwater recovery nature of the work HEART does, they're often responding to tragic events involving people who drown. This time, though, was different.

"To be able to find two people alive and be able to return them is a real boost in the arm," he said.

Evelyn said the elation her rescuers showed left an impression.

"They were very happy," she said. "They said, praise the Lord that they had actually found us alive … and [one of them] says, 'Don't thank us, thank God' — I'll think about that many times."

As for future road trips, Evelyn said the road they got stuck on isn't one she wants to travel again.

"I won't do that again, definitely," she said. "We'll have to find something different to do on our next trip."