LINCOLN (AP) – A man who hurt his leg and was stuck alone in an unheated camper says his determination kept him alive for five frigid days while he waited for help to arrive.

“I just thought, ‘I gotta stay alive until someone finds me here,”‘ said Charles Armstrong, 55, who hurt his leg on Jan. 12 as he gathered firewood to prepare for the cold weather he knew was coming.

He slipped on a patch of ice and landed awkwardly on his right leg. He lay for a while, then crawled to his 19-foot camper in Lakeville, an isolated Penobscot County town about 15 miles east of Lincoln.

The fire in his wood-burning stove went out and Armstrong’s only heat was a two-burner Coleman stove he used to keep his hands from freezing. The 10 sleeping bags and six blankets Armstrong piled on top of himself were not enough to protect him from temperatures that fell as low as minus 20.

“It wasn’t looking too good there for awhile,” he said. “I never knew 24 hours could be so long.”

Armstrong lay immobilized with nothing but water, some coffee and the little bit of food he could reach to sustain him. The nearest phone was 11/2 miles away and the five houses nearest his were vacant for the winter.

“I was just praying that someone would come along and find me,” Armstrong said at Penobscot Valley Hospital, where he is being treated for frostbite and his injured leg.

“My feet are all black and frostbit,” he said. “I couldn’t keep my feet warm.”

After five days, Armstrong’s friend David Richie, of Lakeville, found him and called for help. The Lincoln Fire Department and the game warden arrived, and took Armstrong to the hospital.

“I had my wits about me (when they found me). The game warden couldn’t believe it,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong moved to Maine at the beginning of last year to find a home that would be cheaper than his native Massachusetts. He previously worked in Pepperell, Mass.

But he didn’t count on being caught without heat during the coldest weather this season. “I almost didn’t stay this year,” he said. “I didn’t like the idea of a camp with just a wood stove to keep warm. I was going to go down and stay with my sister in Florida.”

Now Armstrong hopes none of his toes will be amputated. He regained some of the feeling in his feet, and his doctor said there’s a chance the toes can be saved.

He will stay at the hospital for physical therapy until he is well enough to be released and plans to stay with a cousin in Massachusetts until he is fully recovered.

Armstrong said he is grateful to the people who brought him out of a tough situation.

“I’d never want anyone to go through this,” he said. “Never.”

AP-ES-01-20-04 1317EST

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