Stan Lafitte takes great pride in maintaining a positive attitude and that character trait just may have saved his life last week.
The 87-year-old resident of Port au Port East loves to travel and it would not be uncommon for him to hop into his car and go off somewhere on a whim.
When he never returned from the trip he went on last Thursday, his family and friends grew quite concerned about where he was.
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Lafitte was concerned about where he was after his car went off the road and ended up in a position he could not escape from on his own.
He would remain stuck in the car for the next 43 hours or so before being rescued.
He had driven his red Buick LCX out to Codroy Valley for last Thursday’s excursion. At around 3 p.m., while en route back home to Port au Port East, Lafitte lost control of the car on the Trans-Canada Highway near Codroy Pond.
It swerved to the left, crossed the westbound lane, went up an embankment, then down the other side. It went through rocks and trees before finally coming to a stop in a gorge that was about the same width as the car.
“I don’t really know how it happened,” he said of not being able to stop the car or control where it went. “I was just trying not to hit anything. You couldn’t drive a car into where I was again if you tried.”
The ravine he wound up in prevented him from opening any of the doors. The trees, ice and snow up against the windows made escape from them impossible without assistance from the outside.
“I would not have been able to get back inside the car if I had to,” he said of the thought of getting out, but still being unable to get somewhere safe.
While he takes good care of himself physically, Lafitte said he no longer possesses the strength he would have needed to break out the windshield.
“I don’t have a 30-year-old’s body anymore,” he laughed.
He took out his cellphone to call for help, but there was no service in the area he was in.
“All I could do was sit there,” he said. “I figured, eventually, somebody would come along and help me.”
Where the car wound up was not visible from the highway, though. As darkness neared, Lafitte realized he might have to spend the night.
He had tried starting the car and was successful at doing that, but the crash had damaged the heating system and it was no longer working.
When he had left home, it was a fine day with temperatures up around 8 C. He was dressed for spring, with only a light jacket on. He did have a blanket on the front seat, which came in handy as the nighttime temperature dropped to -1 C.
He made it through the first night, but he was cold and had nothing at all to eat or drink.
He thought for sure someone would find him Friday. When evening approached again, he did start to worry.
“I was shivering, shivering, shivering,” he said.
The second night was colder, with the mercury dipping to a chilly -5 C.
“When it got early evening and in the night, I would turn on the headlights and flashers, hoping someone would notice the lights from the road,” he said.
At 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Lafitte was startled by a tap on the window. Finally, someone had found him.
According to the Bay St. George RCMP, Lafitte’s snow-covered vehicle had been spotted by a chopper from Universal Helicopters that was aiding the search for Lafitte. Besides the police and helicopter, the search for him also involved Barachois Brook Search and Rescue and Fire and Emergency Services NL.
Lafitte said it took the search party 20 minutes or so to shovel away enough snow to open a car door and another effort to get him out.
He was taken to Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital in Stephenville via ambulance to be checked out. He walked out of the hospital on his own, no worse for the wear, about four hours later.
His stay at the hospital included an IV and some food to replenish his body and an EKG to make sure his heart hadn’t endured too much stress.
“I never had one scratch on me,” he said. “I did have a bit of a sore back from sitting in the car seat for so long, though.”
While he had been cold, hungry and a little concerned, Lafitte said he never once feared he would die in his car. He knows if it had been colder, he could have developed hypothermia and things would have been much more perilous for him.
“I wasn’t scared at all,” he said. “I couldn’t get out, so I knew nothing was going to get in at me. After the second night, I was getting a bit delirious, but everything worked out. I’ve always been a positive person and I just stayed positive that someone would eventually find me.”
He said he couldn’t thank enough everyone who helped him, from the searchers to the paramedics and hospital staff, and all those who have contacted him since hearing of his ordeal and rescue. He said he even heard from well-wishers he doesn’t even know.
“I’m still here and that’s wonderful,” he said.
The Bay St. George RCMP said the vehicle Lafitte was driving has been removed from its location, but there has not yet been any determination of the reason why his car went off the road.
***This article was edited 11-04-2017 to add photos