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Man, 84, survives 5-day ordeal in Arizona desert

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PHOENIX » There was a moment when Henry Morello began to lose hope, stuck as he was for five long days with his car in a ditch in the Arizona desert.

The 84-year-old drank windshield wiper fluid after he got thirsty, used car mats to stay warm and even read a car manual from cover to cover to pass time.

Then, he heard a knock on a window from a hiker, and suddenly his long, painful ordeal was over.

"I just kissed him," Morello said of the hiker. "He looked like an angel to me."

Morello described his ordeal Tuesday, recalling how he made a wrong turn while driving home Feb. 7 from the Phoenix suburb of Cave Creek and ending up stuck in the desert near Interstate 17 north of Phoenix. His car and cell phone battery soon went dead as rescuers looked for him.

Morello said he became stranded when — realizing he took a wrong turn — made a U-turn and ended up in a ditch.

He tried to crawl out of the car but did not get too far and returned. He ripped a chrome piece from his car and put it on the roof, hoping someone would see the reflection.

He didn’t have water. To quench his thirst, Morello said he broke the wiper fluid container open with a rock and filtered out fluid with napkin to try to make it safe.

He said nights were hardest because he would get scared, and he prayed to Saint Anthony, the patron of lost causes. With no sign of searchers by the fifth night, Morello said, he started to lose hope.

"My phone went dead, my battery went dead, and I went dead," Morello said.

Overnight temperatures the week he was missing were in the upper 30s to the mid-40s, the National Weather Service said.

The hikers who found him Saturday morning weren’t identified, but Jim Sheehan, a friend who helped organize a search and rescue team, said they knew of the missing man.

"Nobody ever gave up," said Sheehan, who was on a search plane when he got a call saying Morello had been found.

Doctors at John C. Lincoln Hospital say he arrived in good condition considering what he’d been through. A diabetic, Morello, will stay in the hospital a few days while doctors treat him for kidney damage.

Dr. Kevin Veale said initial reports were that Morello had consumed some antifreeze, which would have been much worse than wiper fluid.

Morello lives on his own but a caregiver visits daily.

Morello’s nephew, Carl Morello, said his family in Chicago was overjoyed to hear that his uncle was found alive. "Miracles still do happen," Carl said.

About 100 volunteers passed out fliers and searched on the ground for Morello over four days starting Wednesday, after authorities got word that he was missing.

Morello won’t be driving by himself for a long time, said Sheehan, who has been friends with Morello for 15 years.

And Morello says he’s learned a lesson the hard way: "I’ll never drive without water."

 

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