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Man, 84, survives desert ordeal over five days

PHOENIX (AP) ― There was a moment when Henry Morello began to lose hope, as he was stuck 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 at a hospital news conference Tuesday as he recalled making a wrong turn while driving home Feb. 7 from a favorite restaurant and ending up stuck in the desert near a highway north of Phoenix. His car and mobile phone battery soon went dead as rescuers looked for him.

Morello said he became stranded when he 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 for him because he would get scared, and he prayed to Saint Anthony, 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.

The hikers who found him Saturday morning weren’t identified at the news conference, but Jim Sheehan, a friend who helped organize a search and rescue team, 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.

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, was at the news conference along with other family members from Chicago. He said the family was simply overjoyed to hear that his uncle was found alive.

“Miracles still do happen,” Carl said.

Family members in Chicago were kept informed during the effort by friends in Arizona.

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. Volunteers cooperated with the Maricopa Sheriff’s department to make sure that all surrounding areas were covered.

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.