Rescued after 2 months in remote B.C. wilderness, Bear Henry survived on canned food and hope

A 37-year-old missing for more than two months in a heavily forested area of Vancouver Island says they survived on beans, rice, peanut butter, tomato sauce and other canned food.

Bear Henry, a member of Penelakut First Nation, was last seen on Nov. 27, 2021, while on their way to an old-growth logging protest at Fairy Creek. They were reported missing to the Victoria Police Department on Dec. 11, sparking a search that included police helicopters, volunteer ground searches and missing person posters across the island. 

On Feb. 9, Henry was found by forestry workers on a logging road near Lake Cowichan, B.C. Henry was brought to a local Tim Hortons, where they were met by officers and family members.

“I pushed my body … ‘please just get me through this,'” Henry told reporters on Friday in Victoria, after being released from a Duncan, B.C., hospital where they were assessed for muscle loss and possible kidney issues.

Henry said before the ordeal, they weighed more than 300 pounds. They had lost a fifth of that.

“[Bear] survived 10 weeks in the worst winter storms, with no food and no running water, other than what was coming out of the stream,” said Henry’s aunt, Rose Henry. “I’m really grateful to the Creator.”

Like ‘finding a needle in a haystack’

En route to Fairy Creek, Henry’s camper van — stocked with a few days’ worth of food — slid off a road into a ravine, out of sight to searchers.

They said previous survival advice from their uncle — such as staying put where you get lost if possible, conserving one’s energy levels, and always carrying a knife and lighters — helped as temperatures plummeted in December and food dwindled. 

“It came back in those moments: know when to rest, know your limits, know when to ration, only take little sips,” Henry said.

In a statement, RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the Mounties took over the investigation on Dec. 29. RCMP searched the expansive area by air, but with no specific starting point for the search, it was like “finding a needle in a haystack,” she said.

“There had been significant snowfall, which was obstructing the roadway and would have hampered aerial search efforts. As well, the area is heavily wooded and any vehicles that may be under the canopy would be unlikely to be seen from overhead.”

Bear Henry, centre, is seen with family members on Wednesday after Henry was rescued by forestry contractors. (BearHenryIsMissing Group/Facebook)

Investigators looped in Cowichan Search and Rescue on Jan. 13, Shoihet said, which was conducting ATV training in the area. The group used the opportunity to search for Henry, but did not search by foot due to a lack of information on a starting point, she added. 

A Cowichan SAR spokesperson said it was prepared to “deploy at any moment” but needed more specific physical clues to start a search “once there was more information to go on.”

At one point, Henry said, they saw an RCMP search helicopter, but were unable to catch its attention with a silver emergency blanket and arm gestures.

Henry’s vehicle is still missing. 

‘The will to survive is a major factor’

Experts say it’s not unheard of for someone to survive an extended amount of time in conditions like these.

“It is possible for someone to survive under those circumstances,” said Cowichan SAR president and search manager Jamie Tudway-Cains.

“The will to survive is a major factor.”

Victoria wilderness survival instructor Renita Silva says it is a surprising story, but Henry’s experience is not unheard of, especially since they had shelter, small food rations and snow to melt for drinking.

“Without food, we can go around like eight weeks,” Silva said. “So yes, it is possible as long as you definitely have some water.”

Henry’s story is a reminder that anyone can end up in a survival situation, Silva said, so being prepared and letting another person know your destination, route and expected arrival date is important.

Henry’s aunt says she refused to give up hope, despite fearing the worst. 

“Toward the end, I was going through the stages of grieving and accepting the fact that we might not be bringing Bear back alive,” she said. “I’ve already lost two other nephews during this pandemic. I wasn’t going to lose a third one, and that’s what kept me going, was my belief that Creator’s not taking this one.”

Henry thanked the employees with Gemini Falling Contractors who found them. 

The company could not be reached for comment, but in a statement, employer Teal Jones said it was “good news” that Henry had been found safe, and “gratifying” that its contractors were able to help.

“Those guys were nice, they gave me money for food,” Henry said. “Dear God, thank you.

“That kind of care and support to do that, that’s humanity right there.”

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