The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

amazing story

Survivor Turkey: Father-Son Skiing Duo Lost in Mountains

By Susan Mann, Ken Hulme, and Scott Ross
The 700 Club It has been 10 years since Mike and Matt Couillard were missing on a ski trip in Turkey, where Mike was stationed with the Air Force. But the family will tell you it seems like yesterday. We begin our story with the letter written by Mike to his wife, Mary, as he wonders if this will be his last words to his wife.

Their ordeal began on January 15, 1995, on a ski slope in Turkey.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): Air Force Captain Mike Couillard and his sons Mark and Matt had decided to take a daylong ski trip. An accomplished skier, Mike had decided to take his younger son, Matt, up for one more run. For some reason, they took the wrong trail and discovered they were lost.

MIKE COUILLARD: We got into trees, and I kept thinking we’d finally pop out of the trees and find the trail on the other side, but we got deeper and deeper. Once we stopped, only then did I really feel the full weight of the circumstances.

SCOTT ROSS: What about supplies? Did you have food with you, water, what?

MIKE COUILLARD: We didn’t really have anything other than what the normal skier would have. I really had no matches or anything. I’m not a smoker, so we didn’t have that. And we had no survival equipment really to speak of. We just had the clothes on our backs and about five pieces of hard candy in my pocket.

SCOTT ROSS: Were you in a region where there would be pockets of protection, where there were caves or trees to protect you or anything, or were you out in the open?

MIKE COUILLARD: It was a pretty easy decision. I just need to pick wide open branches and try to make some shelter under that as best as I could that first night.

SCOTT ROSS: Now, didn’t you find a cave a short time thereafter?

MIKE COUILLARD: Well, this is definitely God’s work; why I would have picked the tree that was planted right above two boulders that made a little cave, I don’t know, but God certainly has a way of providing.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): It was a godsend against the chilling wind. The snowstorm went on for three solid days. As Mike and Matt huddled together, their main concern was keeping as warm and as dry as possible. Mike's Air Force Academy survival training had kicked in that first day. They huddled together to stay warm and could only sleep in short spurts, but Mike believed these simple things were keeping them alive. Then there was the question of water.

[Scott asks Mike] Did you eat the snow, or 'drink the snow', as they say? Is that something that one should or should not do in a situation like this?

MIKE COUILLARD: If you have other options, you shouldn’t. Eating snow will drop your body temperature. Right by this cave there was a stream.

SCOTT ROSS: How did you then carry water, or did you just bend down and drink from the stream?

MIKE COUILLARD: Well, I knew we were going to stay put, so I just took Matt’s ski boots and filled it up with water at the stream. Our ski poles were aluminum and I just broke those and made a sipping tube for him to drink out of that boot.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): 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.

MIKE COUILLARD [reading portion of letter Mike wrote to wife Mary]: 'My darling wife, Mary: How I grieve at leaving you behind. I hate to come to that conclusion, but after eight days ….Oh, to see your smiling face again and to taste the sweetness of your lips.'

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): During their days on the mountain, search helicopters passed over several times, but they never saw Mike and his son. In fact, a massive ground and air search was underway — hundreds of troops and volunteers fanned out in an effort to find them. Eventually, they called off the search, thinking they would only find Mike and Matt in the spring. As Mike and Matt were struggling to stay alive, back at the base where the search was being coordinated, Mary Couillard was trying to “survive” in her own way.

MARY COUILLARD: We were in Ankara, about three hours away from where they were. All we could do was pray.

SCOTT ROSS: As the days rolled by and there was no significant report of finding them, how did you feel?

MARY COUILLARD: Somebody said, 'Mary, you need to have a good cry,' and I started crying. It sounded like I was laughing and crying. I said, 'OK, we better back off from that,' so after that, I tried to stay pretty even-keeled. We had a lot of prayer times.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): Meanwhile, Mike and Matt were praying prayers of their own.

MIKE COUILLARD: We did a lot of praying. I mean, cries of despair, heartfelt prayers were definitely going up. I had no idea where we were, but God knew just what it was going to take to get us down. God had a purpose. I went outside and I saw a blanket of stars.It took me back to that story of Abraham, and it was as if God just took that moment when He had my full attention and said, 'You know, Mike, I have a plan for you, too. I have a promise for you.'

[reading a section of the letter he wrote to Mary]: 'Matthew’s been a real trooper. The hardest part of this whole ordeal is watching him suffer. He wants me to relay to all of you how much he loves his family.'

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): On the 8th day, they had 'gone missing.' Mike climbed to the top of a plateau near their cave. That’s when he saw some cabins further down a logging road near their 'camp.' Facing the most difficult decision of their ordeal, Mike decided to leave Matt behind and try to reach the cabins.

MIKE COUILLARD: It took me hours to get there, and as I got closer, I realized there were no people here. I wasn't seeing smoke come out of the chimneys of the cabins.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): 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, who, by God’s providence, just happened to be coming to those cabins to gather wood. When they saw Mike at the cabin, they knew from the newspapers exactly who he was. Mike soon sent them to see if his son was still alive.

MIKE COUILLARD: They told me over the radio that they found him, that he was OK. Then it was pretty quick that they got him to me. They sat him on my lap.

SCOTT ROSS: What was that moment like? He’s put on your lap. There’s father and son reunited. The lost had been found.

MIKE COUILLARD: There’s no way to describe that kind of emotion that goes through you because I had expected the worst and God had put him in my lap.

SCOTT ROSS: Within hours, Mike and Matt would be reunited with the family in a Turkish hospital.

MARY COUILLARD: He goes, 'Hi, Mommy!' Everybody’s crying.

SCOTT ROSS: And your husband?

MARY COUILLARD: He’s in the bed next to him. We’re just hugging and kissing and crying.

SCOTT ROSS: Gratitude?

MARY COUILLARD: Yes, God is so good.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): Matt would lose parts of two toes to frostbite, and Mike also required surgery on his feet. But all in all they were in amazingly good health. It's been nearly a decade since those amazing events took place. Matt, now 20, remembers the moment he was reunited with his dad.

MATT COUILLARD: It was a pretty powerful moment. I just gave him a big hug and said, 'We did it!' It’s good to be alive.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): And as for Mike and Mary, they just recently came across the letter. We asked Mike to read it to his wife, something he had never done before.

MIKE COUILLARD [reading a portion of the letter in Mary's presence]: '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.'

SCOTT ROSS: What have you learned from all this?

MIKE COUILLARD: That God is in control. He kind of keep teaches me that lesson and I keep relearning it. I was in the palm of His hands the whole time, even when I felt totally out of control.

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