The 700 Club with Pat Robertson


Operation Rescue in the Raging Seas

By Shannon Woodland
The 700 Club

CBN.comFor 25 years Capt. Ted Lefeuvre has flown helicopters. Today it's the 865 Dolphin. For a rescue pilot, many missions are routine. But then there are days like January 20, 1998.

"It was at night in January, and snow, and when the wind blows that hard, it blows all the tops of the waves off, so all that salt water is in the air," he says.

The seas off the Gulf of Alaska, just near Sitka, have a very unusual weather pattern. Waves there can reach 70 to 80 feet. In such dangerous situations, prayer is definitely a big part of the plan for Capt. Lefeuvre.

"This particular case," he says, describing the treachery that day, "the weather was so severe--I told you we had some 80-foot waves that came along. All three of the crews (we were the third ones out there), the first two crews warned us, they said, 'Something happens when these great big waves come.'"

The force of these mammoth waves can drive a chopper down in stormy seas. This mission had tremendous risk. Four people were in the water from a capsized fishing boat, and two Coast Guard crews had already returned to base failing the rescue. Captain Lefeuvre and crew were the third on the scene that night. Floating flares in the water let them know when a wave was coming, but no one was expecting what happened next.

"The smoke floats kept going, kept going, kept going, and went up what we call the glare shield, which covers the top of the instruments, and went above that, and I knew we were in trouble," says the captain. "So I started pulling more power to try to climb up. Unfortunately, we were going down."

A gauge in the cockpit called the radar altimeter tells the pilot how high he is above the water. At this point, it was unwinding.

"The wave was coming closer and closer. The flight mechanics in the back were crying 'Up! Up! Up!' at the top of their lungs. They were screaming 'Up! Up! Up! Up! I had all the power. I pulled the collective all the way to the stops," Lefeuvre recalls.

The helicopter's massive engines generate nearly 4,000 horsepower, but in this case, it wasn't enough. They were maxed out trying to escape the monster wave. The helicopter was still going down. Captain Lefeuvre had done everything he could.

Says the captain, "It was at that point that I said, 'Well, Lord, I'm going to meet You.' I knew we were going to crash. I was just absolutely convinced that we were going to crash. I said, 'Lord, I know I'm going to meet You, but do I have to go out cold and wet? I hate cold and wet.' But then all of a sudden, we launched up and were at 600 feet."

Incredibly, the downdraft in front of the wave let go of the struggling helicopter. Captain Lefeuvre and crew took a huge breath, mopped the sweat from their brows, and went back for more. There were still four souls in the frigid water, and time was running out. Finally, after hours of fighting more 80-foot waves, high winds, snow and ice, three of the four were rescued.

"I know the very fact that I'm here is God's grace," he says.

Despite his distinguished career, Captain Lefeuvre is quick to point out that God is the source of his accomplishments.

"I've gone through a career where I've seen God's grace in each of the positions," he notes. "In Sitka, Alaska, I was the commanding officer of the air station there, and it was by God's grace. The commanding officer here is a wonderful blessing, but I see God's hand in what we've done here."

Captain Lefeuvre continues to fly these awesome aircraft as an instructor for the Coast Guard in Pensacola, Fla. Today he's training the next generation of men and women who will fight stormy seas to save lives.

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