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Sea survivor Jose Salvador Alvarenga's Salvadoran family thought he died


GARITA PALMERA, El Salvador (AP) - A Salvadoran fisherman's account of his survival after more than 13 months and about 6,500 miles in an open boat has proved a double miracle for his mother and father, who lost touch with him eight years ago and thought he was dead.

Comments by Jose Salvador Alvarenga's joyful, sometimes tearful parents about their son may help explain how he survived, but they did little to dispel continued doubts about his tale.

His father, Jose Ricardo Orellana, 65, who owns a store and flour mill in the seaside Salvadoran town of Garita Palmera, described a strong, stocky young man who went to sea at age 14. "The sea was his thing," Orellana said.

His mother, Maria Julia Alvarenga, 59, broke into tears after recounting a phone call with her son from the Marshall Islands. He told her he was well, staying at a hotel and getting food and medicine - but told his mother he didn't know where he was.

"We hadn't heard from him for eight years, we thought he was dead already," said Alvarenga. "This is a miracle, glory to God."

Alvarenga's 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, said she didn't remember ever seeing her father, who left El Salvador when she was just over a year old.

"I'm so very happy to know he's alive," said Fatima. "He's alive and I'm going to see him."

The parents said he was known in his hometown as "Cirilo," a nickname that coincides with the first name of a man registered as missing with civil defense officials in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. The civil defense office said a small fishing boat carrying two men, named Cirilo Vargas and Ezequiel Cordoba, disappeared during bad weather on Nov. 17, 2012, and that no trace of them or the craft was found despite an intense two-week search.

Alvarenga said his fellow fisherman, who he identified only with the first name of Ezequiel, died after about a month at sea and he tossed his body overboard. Alvarenga said he survived on raw fish, birds, bird blood and turtles before washing ashore on the remote Marshall Islands atoll of Ebon, 6,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean from the fishing hamlet of Costa Azul, Mexico, where he set out.

There was no immediate explanation of the discrepancy in dates given by Alvarenga and Mexican authorities or the survivor's different names. Alvarenga said he set sail on Dec. 21, 2012, but fisherman in the Chiapas hamlet of Costa Azul said an overweight Central American man known as "La Chancha," or "the pig," had been lost since November 2012. Alvarenga may have used multiple nicknames, and seems fuzzy about details of his voyage.

Jose Manuel Aragon, spokesman for the Chiapas state civil defense office, said two weeks of searches were fruitless and reflected the widespread incredulity at Alvarenga's tale.

"It was probably something that was planned beforehand, something we had no knowledge of," Aragon said. "Our only duty was to carry out search and rescue operations."

Villermino Rodriguez, a young fishing boat owner in Costa Azul known as "Willie," described Alvarenga as a heavy set, quiet man. Alvarenga has said he worked for Willie.

Rodriguez said the two men set out despite warnings that day about heavy rains and high winds. He too wonders about the survival story.

"You can imagine a lot of things, but that is something he should explain," said Rodriguez. "There are things that don't match up. I knew him, but I have a lot of doubts."

Central America is a major transshipment route for U.S.-bound drugs, but there is no evidence traffickers would use such a small boat to try to make such a long journey.

Alvarenga did not appear badly sunburned, despite his account of spending such a long time adrift.

"It's hard for me to imagine someone surviving 13 months at sea," said U.S. Ambassador Tom Armbruster in Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands, after speaking with Alvarenga. "But it's also hard to imagine how someone might arrive on Ebon out of the blue. Certainly this guy has had an ordeal, and has been at sea for some time."

Armbruster said the soft-spoken man complained of joint pain Monday and had a limp, but could walk. He had long hair and a beard, and rather than appearing emaciated he looked puffy in places, including around his ankles, said the ambassador. Otherwise, he added, Alvarenga seemed in reasonable health.

Armbruster, who speaks Spanish, said Alvarenga told him he was working for Willie, catching sharks for 25 pesos ($1.90) per pound, when a storm blew his 23-foot (7-meter) fiberglass boat off course.

"He talked about scooping up little fish that swam alongside the boat and eating them raw," Armbruster said. "He also said he ate birds, and drank birds' blood."

Gee Bing, the Marshall Islands' acting secretary of foreign affairs, said "I'm not sure if I believe his story" after meeting with Alvarenga Monday.

"When we saw him, he was not really thin compared to other survivors in the past," said Bing. "I may have some doubts. Once we start communicating with where he's from, we'll be able to find out more information."

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Dude February 04 2014 at 6:26 PM

Anybody who believes that overweight fellow was adrift at sea for even a week is out of their mind.

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olmst5346 Dude February 04 2014 at 6:39 PM

I agree

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nucc10 February 04 2014 at 6:12 PM

He weighed over to 300. He lost about 130 lbs. Well versed on survival. They will be able to tell in about 5 minutes when they find the boat. Damn, would have been a shoe in for another Academy award for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Tragedy.

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tkline708 nucc10 February 04 2014 at 6:18 PM

I think he ate his partner and drank his blood.

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Louie Martin February 04 2014 at 6:10 PM

I doubt it very much

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cleds70 February 04 2014 at 6:10 PM

questionable and improbable, time will reveal more

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iggles10 February 04 2014 at 6:10 PM

Seems strange how his finger nails remained at a short length, but don't appear bitten... I think something isn't right....

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shulmjs February 04 2014 at 6:10 PM

He looks like Justin B. After a Piss contest in the bucket at the restaurant...But Older. Soft hands, face etc..... after being out for so long in the sun...HOT SUN.......... The two of them should be deported... Get it together.................. They both keep smiling and waving...?????? Except one gets to go to court starting Feb. 14. 2014.... Justin may want to borrow his boat of HOPE AND KINDNESS..

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Capt. BOB February 04 2014 at 11:25 PM

I was born by the seaside, and had my A. in the sea since I was 3 years old. I am a professional seaman, a Navy Officer with the highest naval, and survival, educations.
YES it is possible to survive at sea on your own, that long.
But you need just some equipment that should have been ON his boat and he does not mention about.
Yes he is stocky. He never said he starved do death did he ? The bloated ankles and wrists are characteristics of being in sea water for too many hours every day. I see his hands are very strong and not puffy at all. To catch birds or fishes, even turtles "with hands only " seem quite uneasy. I do not say impossible. When a kid I played to do so. Give him a test for a week: back at sea, with the same equipment, and then check him again ( sun burnt and weight especially ). His hair not burnt ? He is RED haired like a viking. What is his normal hair color , is not it black ? Oiling your hair(s) with greasy fishes like flying fishes is far ENOUGH for a 100% protection...

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1 reply
GOBGOTZ Capt. BOB February 05 2014 at 12:54 AM

You sure as hell weren't born near or in a class room.

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holmes12310 February 04 2014 at 6:06 PM

It's clear God was not ready to bring him home yet. If nothing else to prove to those who don't believe in the unbelievable. He had a boat (protection), I would think it did rain in 13 months (water supplies) and he had the ocean full of fresh food (fish- protein) and seaweed (veggies) ) So what is so unbelievable? The main thing he had on his side is... FAITH! Granted the rest of us wimps would have caved.... he didn't! Does that make it unreal? No .... it makes him a survivor and the rest of us wimps! Period

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Dr. Cal Harris holmes12310 February 04 2014 at 6:21 PM

Great posting. You took an optimistic view; I am afraid I didn't (should have). The southern counter currents that would have drifted him towards the Marshals should have brought lots of storms with them.

The bottom line is that it is an amazing story.

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k3j8l9 February 04 2014 at 5:58 PM

Absoultely, unfiltered, unaduerated 100% BULLSHIT !!!! (( IMHO ) KjL

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river6ratt February 04 2014 at 8:02 PM

I spent 8 years in the navy, and even with the inside of a ship for shelter, just a few days of sea spray and three meals a day,wearing the same clothes for just a few days would cause sores on the skin, and rain water mixing with sea spray would have poisioned him. Unless he maybe got help from Amelia Aeheart, and some provosions from the PT 109 .

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roseyoungstewart river6ratt February 04 2014 at 8:34 PM

Doubtful poisoning is the correct term to use. Long distance swimmers from Cuba to Miami or the UK in the English Channel do not become poisoned.The men on Kon Tiki never were poisoned. You're too young to know whats what.

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