Henry Morello, 84, is one tough guy. On February 7, he made a wrong turn and found himself stuck in a ditch in the Arizona desert. His car battery? Dead. His cell phone? Kaput. With no food or water, Morello broke open the wiper fluid container with a rock and filtered it with napkin to try to make it safe. Yes, you read that right—he drank windshield wiper fluid.
How did this not kill him? We turned to Leslie Dye, M.D., a medical toxicologist and the secretary and treasurer of the American College of Medical Toxicology. Wiper fluid can contain a highly toxic chemical called methanol, which is also found in antifreeze. “But windshield washer fluids can be made of other substances, especially in a place like Arizona where the temp rarely drops below freezing,” Dye says. “My first guess is that there was not methanol in this wiper fluid.” If it did contain methanol, Dye doesn’t think Morello would have survived. (Mental note: Don’t guzzle a toxic substance the next time you take a wrong turn.
Luckily, hikers discovered Morello on his fifth day in the desert. But the tough old man’s resourcefulness got us wondering what other extraordinary things men have done when faced with the possibility of death.
Trapped in a car—down an embankment!
Like Morello, Julian McCormick found himself stranded. In 2007, the college student drove his car off a steep embankment and into a ravine. Disoriented and hurt, McCormick was trapped in the car for 8 days. The only thing that kept him alive was the adjacent creek. Drinking water from his size 13 sneakers and eating raw fish, McCormick eventually had enough strength to pry the driver’s side door open and painfully drag himself 30 feet up the embankment to the shoulder of the road to seek out help.
Lost in the Outback
Think being trapped in a car is scary? Australia is home to some of the greatest—albeit most frightening—animals on the planet. (Think: cassowaries, giant blue earthworms, and funnel web spiders.) So imagine being lost in the Outback for 71 days. That’s what happened to Ricky Megee in 2006. He claims he was abducted on a desert highway, drugged, and left for dead. Chowing down on leeches and frogs that he crisped under the scorching sun, he survived for 10 weeks until ranchers found him.
Hiding in a tree from crocodiles
Aussie David George was thrown from his horse, Smokey, and knocked unconscious in 2007. Dazed and bleeding, the rancher climbed back in the saddle and hoped Smokey would take him home. Instead, the horse led him into the middle of a crocodile swamp. George scrambled up into a tree as the crocs stalked him from below. For 7 days, George tried everything to attract the attention of helicopter search teams flying overhead. He flashed sunlight off his tobacco tin and waved his shirt on a stick, never moving from his tree refuge. On the eighth day, rescuers finally spotted George and helped him to safety. Smokey made it home safe after just four days—another reason we prefer dogs.