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CBN.com “My darling wife Mary, how I grieve at leaving you behind. I hate to come to that conclusion, but after eight days…”
Mike Couillard and his 10-year-old son Matt had already survived for days in frigid temperatures without fire or food. That’s when Mike began to write what he believed would be his last words to his wife...
Oh, to see your smiling face again and to taste the sweet-sweetness of your lips.
Their ordeal began on January 15, 1995, on a ski slope in Turkey. Mike and his sons Mark and Matt had decided to take a day long ski trip. An accomplished skier, Mike had decided to take Matt up for one more run.
For some reason, they took the wrong trail and discovered they were lost.
“We got into trees. I kept thinking we’d finally pop out and find the trail on the other side, but we got deeper and deeper,” Mike says. “Once we stopped, only then did I really feel the full weight of the circumstances.”
Mike and his son didn’t have much to survive on.
“I had a couple pieces of candy in my pocket. No matches or anything. No survival equipment. Just the clothes on our backs.”
But Mike’s Air Force Academy survival training took over as he looked for a makeshift shelter.
“Why I would have picked the tree that was planted right above two boulders that made a little cave, I don’t know. God certainly has a way of providing.”
The cave-like shelter was a Godsend against the chilling wind. For three solid days, Mike and Matt huddled together against a fierce snow storm. Their main concern was keeping as warm and dry as possible.
“I took Matt’s ski boots and filled it up with water at the stream. Our ski poles were aluminum, and I just broke those. Made a sipping tube for him to drink out of that boot.”
Meanwhile, a massive ground and air search was underway. Hundreds of military troops and volunteers fanned out to find this Air Force captain and his son.
After several days, they called off the search, thinking they would only find the bodies in the spring.
As the days passed, Mike felt his life dwindling.
You have been more than a best friend, a great lover, fantastic mother... Matthew put in a word for great cook. He’s been talking about food since we’ve been lost.
Meanwhile, back at the base of operations, Mary Couillard was trying to survive her own ordeal.
“Somebody said, ‘Mary, you need to have a good cry,’ and I started crying... We had a lot of prayer times.”
In the midst of their despair, Mike and Matt had an encounter with God as well.
“We did a lot of praying,” Mike says. “I went outside, and I saw a blanket of stars. It took me back to that story of Abraham. It was if God just took that moment. He had my full attention and said, ‘You know, Mike, I have a plan for you too. I have a promise for you.’”
On the eighth day, Mike climbed to the top of a plateau near their cave and spotted some cabins with the hope of finding help. Mike made the difficult decision to leave his son behind and try to reach the cabins.
“It took me hours to get there, and as I got closer, I realized there were no people here. I’m not seeing smoke come out of the chimneys of the cabins.”
After more than a week without food, Mike was too weak to get back to Matt. As he waited in the cabin for another day, help came in the form of a busload of Turkish lumberjacks. By God’s providence, they just happened to be coming to those cabins to gather wood.
They recognized Mike immediately from the news reports. Mike sent them to see if his son was still alive.
“They told me over the radio that they found him. He was okay. There’s no way to describe that kind of emotion that goes through. I’d expected the worst.”
Within hours Mike and Matt were reunited with their family in a Turkish hospital.
Mary says, “We were just hugging and kissing and crying. God is so good.”
Matt lost parts of two toes to frostbite. Mike also required surgery on his feet. But all in all, they were in amazingly good health.
It’s been over a decade since those amazing events took place. Matt, now an adult, remembers the moment he was reunited with his dad.
“It was pretty powerful moment,” Matt says. “I just gave him a big hug and said, ‘We did it.’ It’s good to be alive.”
Mary just recently came across the letter her husband wrote as he faced death on the side of the mountain. We asked Mike to read it to her — something he’d never done before.
You have been my counterweight, matching each other’s strengths with our weaknesses. I’d say we made a great team. Mary, my heart and soul forever, Mike.
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