Saturday, March 21, 1998
Father, son say faith and prayer helped them
By Terri Urban / The Gazette
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Mike Couillard's 1995 ski trip with
his 10-year-old son started out the way so many father-son adventures
do: full of joy, excitement and the anticipation of a fun time
But their trip nearly ended in tragedy. For nine and a half
days, the U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and his son Matthew
struggled to survive in the freezing Turkish wilderness after
they got lost in a blizzard. They battled frostbite and starvation
and came face to face with death.
What kept them alive, they say, was their strong Christian
faith and the prayers of people around the world.
So strong was their faith and the faith of their family and
friends that they wanted to share its role in their survival.
The result is a book, "Miracle on the Mountain, a True Tale
of Faith and Survival," which talks about their ordeal and
spirituality. It was published by Avon and went on sale Wednesday.
"Not only is the book an edge-of-your-seat survival story
but a story of the inspiring power of religious faith," said
Ann McKay Thoroman, the book's editor.
The Couillards, who live in Black Forest, Colo., say they wanted
to tell others about the power of God, who saved them.
"I feel like Lazarus in a lot of ways," says Mike
Couillard, an Air Force Academy graduate, referring to the man
Jesus brought back to life. "The world had basically given
us up for dead. Now, we are alive."
Their story began when Mike and Matthew were skiing the highest
trail of a ski resort in Turkey, where the elder Couillard was
stationed. The two were caught in a sudden blizzard. Blinded by
snow and unable to find the trail, the father and son tried to
keep moving and find their way back to the ski lodge.
Finally, the two had to stop because of exhaustion and darkness.
As Mike writes, "In my mind, that was the cutoff point
that meant we were in a survival situation."
They huddled together in a stand of trees and reconciled themselves
to staying outside until they were found.
More than 4 feet of snow fell in the next four days, hampering
search efforts. On the second day, the two moved into a small
cave - little more than a 3-foot crevice between two rocks - and
lay inside, sharing body heat. Without food, matches or other
supplies, they had few resources to wait out the storm.
What they had in abundance was religious faith.
"Even though we were lost and no human being knew where
we were, God knew where we were," Mike said in an interview.
"And there was comfort in that."
As days went by, more than 500 people searched the mountains
for the father and son.
Meanwhile, Mike's wife, Mary, and the couple's other two children,
Mark and Marissa - then 14 and 8, respectively - waited at their
home in Turkey for news. Mary called family and friends in other
parts of the world to ask for prayers for her lost husband and
And Mike and his son needed all the prayers they could get.
Weakened by hunger and frostbite, they were slowly starving in
a location outside the search parameters. Their hopes for rescue
Matthew's feet were too frostbitten to allow him to move. By
the seventh day, Mike faced a critical choice. Should he leave
young Matthew alone in the cave and try to find help, or stay
together and pray for the best?
Using the last of his strength, Mike skied away in search of
rescue. He found only some abandoned shacks, devoid of any useful
supplies. Too weak to try to go back up the mountain to his son,
the two faced their bleakest hours - apart from each other and
believing they would soon die.
Finally, Mike heard the distant sound of an engine. A van carrying
Turkish lumberjacks came near. Mike screamed for help. The van
stopped. The woodcutters soon followed Mike's directions to find
Matthew in the cave.
The reunited father and son cried tears of joy. After 10 days,
they were finally safe.
In the weeks that followed, both father and son lost parts
of their feet to frostbite. But buoyed by their faith and happiness
at being reunited with the rest of the family, the two have made
remarkable recoveries - though Mike says he emerged with a new
perspective on life.
"It has changed me in a really big sense, because it's
become like an anchor. What can I possibly come across that is
going to be worse than this? This was pretty rock-bottom, and
God never left my side."
Today, Matthew is a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Challenger
Middle School who loves soccer and video games, and is tired of
talking about his ordeal. Mike is a squadron commander at the
Air Force Academy and has used his experience to inspire cadets
and other officers.
The Couillards still celebrate the day they were rescued -
Jan. 24 - as a special family holiday.
A crew from NBC's "Dateline" recently taped the Couillards
at their home and on the slopes of Colorado's Loveland ski resort.
"Matthew got to 'swoosh' the TV camera with his snowboard
and thought that was totally cool," his mother said.
Still, the memories of their ordeal in the wilderness are vivid.
"I have a hard time reading the book without tears,"
says Mike. "I'm just so thankful to God to still be here."
(c) 1998, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).
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