A fisherman from El Salvador who says he spent more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean arrived home Tuesday night and was barely able to speak, sobbing as dozens of curiosity-seekers craned for a glimpse of the famous castaway.
Jorge Salvador Alvarenga, 36, told officials he washed ashore in the Marshall Islands at the end of January and said he
survived the ordeal by drinking turtle blood and catching fish and birds with his bare hands.
“I can’t find any words to say,” an emotional Alvarenga said on landing at the airport in the capital, San Salvador, where he was reunited with family before being taken to a local hospital in a wheelchair for further tests.
While the exact dates remain unclear, Alvarenga is believed to have set sail on a shark fishing trip from southern Mexico in late December 2012, before being blown out to sea, drifting for months and washing up some 10,000 km (6,200 miles) away in the Marshall Islands.
He was found in a disoriented state on a remote coral atoll in his 7.3-metre (22-foot) fiberglass boat.
“Due to his frail health, it’s necessary that he receive the appropriate medical attention,” El Salvador’s foreign minister, Jaime Miranda, told reporters at the airport.
Alvarenga, who has been a fisherman for 15 years, previously said he set sail with another fisherman who died weeks into their ordeal.
“We’re struck by the extraordinary nature of the case, how long he spent at sea, and we’re surprised that he’s alive,” said Brenda Dominguez, 25, who arrived at the airport to say goodbye to her in-laws in hopes she might see the famous castaway.
In 2006, three Mexican fishermen picked up by a Taiwanese tuna trawler near the islands said they had spent nearly nine months at sea after drifting across the Pacific in a flimsy fishing boat.