For six nights after getting lost in a blizzard on a Boy Scout ski trip, father and son huddled in a cave and ate snow to survive.
They heard helicopters overhead, but rescuers couldn’t see them.
Finally, the U.S. Air Force officer made the difficult decision to leave his 10-year-old son behind and go for help.
He didn’t know he was only three miles from the ski slopes or that his son would spend two nights alone in the cave - cold, hungry, missing his mother and afraid of dying.
On Tuesday, Lt. Col. Michael R. Couillard and his son Matthew were rescued, suffering only from mild frostbite.
Couillard, a graduate of an Air Force survival course, decided Sunday the weather had improved enough to try to find help.
He skied for an hour and a half before coming across a vacant state forestry camp, he said in a statement issued by the U.S. Air Force. Woodcutters found the 37-year-old officer there Tuesday in an unheated cottage.
Forestry official Yuksel Gul told the Anatolia news agency that Couillard was “very weak” but managed in broken Turkish to describe where he had left his son.
Rescuers then found the boy and brought him to the cottage.
“Their reunion was a touching scene,” Gul said. “Although the colonel had difficulty moving, he struggled to his feet and hugged his son in tears.” The survivors’ first meal in nine days was a typical Turkish breakfast: tea, bread, butter and jam. “The little boy kept repeating, ‘Thank you,”’ Gul said.
Although Couillard had left some of his clothes for his son to try to keep warm during his absence, it apparently was not sufficient.
“It was cold; I was hungry,” Matthew said on private Turkish TV.
Matthew also talked about his fear of death alone in the cave. “My father was gone. It kept snowing. I thought about what would happen if I died. I miss my mother,” he told the Anatolia news agency.
The father and son were taken to a hospital in Bolu, near the ski resort 70 miles north of Ankara. They later were flown by U.S. military plane to the Turkish air base at Incirlik, where the United States has a military hospital.
Both were treated for mild frostbite to their feet and toes but were “in much better condition than was initially expected, considering their exposure,” the hospital said in a statement. “The prognosis is good for full recovery.”
Couillard and his son were separated from their ski group in a snowstorm Jan. 15 while skiing at Kartalkaya, a resort in the Bolu Mountains.
When they realized they were lost, they found a road and skied down it before taking shelter under some trees for the night. The next day, they found the cave that was to be their shelter for nearly a week.
Hundreds of Turkish and U.S. soldiers searched for them for days.
Temperatures during their ordeal hovered around freezing, day and night.