Sounds like the HDD was really toast, but in a frustrating way... sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't - that kind of failure makes you want to tear your arm off!
As long as he had no important stuff on the drive, replacing makes the most sense.
BTW, Clonzilla is a "live" CD that allows you to make a clone or image of a drive or partition in a pretty intuitively sensible way... given the way the HDD was failing, however, using Clonzilla may or may not have helped...
And I understand the delay - you have an active life, whereas I am retired and loaf all day ;-)
Hope we miss the ice storm - it's raining real hard here in Spring Hill - poor dog doesn't want to go in it to pee!