Man, 84, survives desert ordeal over 5 days

Man, 84, survives desert ordeal over 5 days

February 16th, 2011 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

By CARMEN CASTRO

The Associated Press

PHOENIX - Henry Morello began to lose hope after being stranded in his car in the Arizona desert for five long days in which the 84-year-old drank windshield wiper fluid, used car mats to stay warm and read a car manual from cover to cover to pass the 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 at a hospital news conference Tuesday as he recalled making a wrong turn while driving home Feb. 7 from a restaurant and ending up stuck in the desert. His car and cell phone battery soon went dead as rescuers looked for him.

Morello said he became stranded when - realizing he made 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.

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 at the news conference, but Jim Sheehan, a search and rescue leader, said they knew of the missing man.

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

Morello is a patient at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix, where doctors said 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. It wasn't immediately clear if drinking the windshield wiper fluid had done him any harm.

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. His family is in Chicago, but friends in Arizona kept them informed about the search.

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

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," Morello said.