Cowichan teen, missing in woods for five days, found safe

Lost in woods for five days

When Owen Weld was found on a logging road near Cowichan Lake Sunday evening and offered a ride, he initially declined the lift — he was unaware of what day of the week it was, never mind that he was the subject of a massive five-day search.

The 19-year-old had already walked about 15 kilometres and when he saw the camping vehicle was full of gear, he didn’t want to be a bother.

“That’s typical of him,” said his mother Diana Weld, a humanities teacher at Cowichan Secondary School.

Luckily, the campers travelling on Caycuse Main near Cowichan Lake realized Owen needed help and insisted he accept a lift.

The campers fed him and charged his phone and, once he was in cellphone range, Owen phoned his dad, Bill Tucker, who works for B.C. Transit.

Diana had just finished travelling roads already searched in Port Renfrew. Just before hearing her son had been found, she was standing with friends on the beach watching the waves and the surfers come in.

“It was really hard. I think I had resigned myself to the fact we weren’t going to see him.”

And then she got the call that her son was alive and safe.

The campers brought Owen to the Tim Hortons in Lake Cowichan where he was met by his father, other family, and an ambulance which transported him — dehydrated and sore — to Cowichan District Hospital where he received a CT scan, then had his first meal in days.

“That’s where I first saw him,” said Diana. “He started crying right away and I started crying and I gave him a hug. He apologized right away and I said, ‘what are you apologizing for, you are here and alive and we love you.’ ”

Owen was released from Cowichan District Hospital just after noon Monday, happy to be going home to be with his family, to eat and have a shower, said his mother.

Owen was last seen Feb. 14 at 4:17 p.m. in his black RAV4 leaving the A&W restaurant in Lake Cowichan.

Owen’s mother quickly knew that night something was wrong, as he was expected home. He had just worked his first shift at Columbia Ice Ltd. in Duncan and was due back at work Thursday.

The family believe Owen’s vehicle travelled about 20 kilometres into the logging road near Cowichan Lake on Wednesday afternoon when his vehicle crashed, possibly in a washout in the road, deploying the airbags.

The crash site is under investigation by police and Cowichan SAR.

The crash must have happened just before 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, said his mother, because he made several attempts to call 911 and to phone and text his parents to no avail as he was out of cellphone range.

“It wrecks me thinking about what he went through,” said Diana. “By Friday night, I was thinking we weren’t going to find him.”

Owen’s family believe he fell unconscious for a large amount of the time between the crash Wednesday and Sunday. He was reluctant to drink creek water “but eventually did” and collected rain water. On Sunday, equipped with a map, a bat and water, he tried to walk to safety.

Diana credits Owen’s father for her son’s ability to survive and find his way in the woods.

“Right now, I know I should be feeling excited and relieved and I am inside, but I’m strangely unemotional right now and processing,” Diana said. “It hasn’t been a rollercoaster really, it’s just been hell.”

Diana said her family is full of gratitude for the “community that rallied behind us” and the “outpouring of support family and friends.”

She said an army of former and present school district teachers, staff and students, as well as sports and volunteer groups, joined the search. Owen played rugby, baseball and soccer.

Main organizers included Corina Fitznar, mother of Owen’s best friend and also a teacher, who set up communications and a “Find Owen Weld” Facebook page to help co-ordinate and map search areas while teacher Kelly Dougan initiated a community search on Feb. 15.

Laketown Ranch, where Sunfest is usually held, offered its facilities as a staging area for search crews and businesses, including Moo’s Pizza in Cobble Hill that fed volunteers.

By Saturday, Owen’s disappearance involved 30 search teams and two aircraft, according to Cowichan Search and Rescue.

“It was overwhelming,” said Diana. “Reach out to your community, they are there, let them love you.”

Shown private posts and messages from the time he was missing, Owen was also overwhelmed by the response, “tearful and thankful.” He said he had no idea that many people would come together for him.

Diana said lessons learned from the ordeal include the advantages of carrying a GPS or satellite device when out of cellphone range, telling loved ones when you are going to remote areas alone, ideally travel to remote areas with a buddy, and to know that the community is there for you in your time of need.

The search and rescue comes on the heels of two other missing and found reports this past week.

Maddison Waterhouse, 13, of Campbell River, who was reported missing by Campbell River RCMP on Feb. 17, was located safe in Courtenay by her grandmother and sister on Monday.

A search for Cora Potoski, 16, and Dommie Malcolmson, 15, both of Campbell River, concluded Friday when the girls, last seen Feb. 12, were tracked down and found to be safe by RCMP police dog Norco.

It was the resolution, said Campbell River RCMP Const. Maury Tyre, that is always hoped for in searches.

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