News / Americas

    Marine Survival Trainer: Story of Man Lost at Sea 'Is Possible'

    Mexican castaway who identified himself as Jose Ivan and later told that his full name is Jose Salvador Alvarenga walks with the help of a Majuro Hospital nurse in Majuro after a 22-hour boat ride from isolated Ebon Atoll,  Feb. 3, 2014.
    Mexican castaway who identified himself as Jose Ivan and later told that his full name is Jose Salvador Alvarenga walks with the help of a Majuro Hospital nurse in Majuro after a 22-hour boat ride from isolated Ebon Atoll, Feb. 3, 2014.
    VOA News
    A 37-year-old fisherman from El Salvador has washed ashore in the Marshall Islands, telling authorities he survived a 13-month journey across the Pacific Ocean by drinking his own urine and eating raw turtles, fish and birds.

    Jose Salvador Alvarenga says he set sail from southern Mexico in December 2012 for what was supposed to be a one-day shark-fishing expedition. When his seven-meter fiberglass boat lost power, he claims he began drifting, and kept drifting, until he landed nearly 11,000 kilometers away. He says he was forced to throw his teenage companion overboard after the young man died because he could not handle the diet they were forced to eat.

    Authorities have not confirmed the story, and some have raised doubts about its plausibility.

    But marine survival trainer and former U.S. Navy diver Terry Crownover said Alvarenga's ordeal is entirely believable. "In the world today, anything is possible. You'll have people that will give up within the first hour, and you've got some people that are just not going to give up. And it's just staying focused. And his big advantage was being out of the water and having some means of protection from the sun and loss of fluids, but I believe it is possible because you look back at case studies of people who have gone almost that duration in open life rafts."

    And Crownover [Director of Training at the Marine Survival Training Institute at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette] is not alone.

    Longtime Marshall Islands resident and filmmaker Jack Niedenthal interviewed Alvarenga on Monday for CNN. He told VOA Tuesday that Alvarenga's initial reluctance to talk to the media and his state of exhaustion following his rescue lead him to believe the story is not a hoax.

    Dire straits

    Alvarenga was found last week on the beach - almost completely naked and hungry, but in relatively good shape, by two women on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the southern Marshall Islands.

    "When he arrived, he appeared very bloated, he's got a very big beard and shaggy hair... he looks exactly like Tom Hanks in Castaway," said Niedenthal.

    Niedenthal said Alvarenga allegedly drank turtle blood and his own urine in order to stay alive.

    "He said the biggest thing was the water. When there wasn't water, he just drank his urine a little bit at a time, just to keep himself somewhat hydrated. And then he said it would pour rain and the boat would fill up with rain water, and that's what he would drink," he said.

    Marine survival trainer Crownover said Alvarenga was in an area of the ocean that does appear to have a food supply chain that would enable him to capture rain water, as well as water from fish he might have caught.

    Survival skills

    Crownover said Alvarenga also was on what he called a "good platform" for survival, in that he was on a vessel rather than a raft. Crownover said that would allow him to stay dry and minimize the risk of hypothermia and threats from creatures in the water.

    And there is a precedent for such a journey. In 2006, three Mexican fisherman were rescued after spending about nine months adrift.                      

    Maria Alvarenga, the mother of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, is comforted by relatives during an interview inside her home in the village of Garita Palmera, El Salvador, Feb. 4, 2014.Maria Alvarenga, the mother of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, is comforted by relatives during an interview inside her home in the village of Garita Palmera, El Salvador, Feb. 4, 2014.
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    Maria Alvarenga, the mother of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, is comforted by relatives during an interview inside her home in the village of Garita Palmera, El Salvador, Feb. 4, 2014.
    Maria Alvarenga, the mother of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, is comforted by relatives during an interview inside her home in the village of Garita Palmera, El Salvador, Feb. 4, 2014.
    Members of Alvarenga's family, in Silver Spring, Maryland, expressed relief at his rescue. While some had given him up for dead, his mother, who remains in El Salvador, insisted he was alive.

    Alvarenga said he now wants to return to Mexico. Diplomats from there, the United States and El Salvador are discussing his relocation.

    Alvarenga said while on his journey he considered committing suicide several times, but survived by praying to God, thinking about his family, and dreaming of eating his favorite food - tortillas.

    And it's that mental will to live that Crownover said is the key to survival. "You stay focused, you [can] accomplish anything. The human race has gotten this far on that kind of thought."

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: tom from: florida
    February 12, 2014 12:12 PM
    When will this guy make the Late Night Talk Show rounds, like the Chilean Miners.

    by: Joshua Folstad from: Charlotte
    February 06, 2014 4:34 PM
    Can we all at least agree he probably ate his friend?
    In Response

    by: JJ from: Canada
    February 18, 2014 11:00 AM
    I agree. He threw the body over to conceal the truth.
    In Response

    by: casas543 from: tx
    February 10, 2014 6:22 AM
    Thats what im thinking plenty of jerky to survive

    by: Paul Nathe from: Fishkill, NY
    February 04, 2014 3:23 PM

    Alvarenga prayed, believed and did not give up. Inspirational. Too many people believe that someone who goes to church is a religious zealot, that prayer is irrational, and that giving up in the face of certain failure is being realistic. We are lucky to have men and women prove to us our true capacities.
    In Response

    by: JJ from: Fever
    February 18, 2014 10:58 AM
    Praying gave him comfort and nothing more. Why is it that religious nuts glom onto any story that references praying, as proof of their beliefs. If praying really wired, he would have been found the next day. Or it would have rained pizza, beer and hookers. (because thats just as believable as an invisible man in the sky)

    This is a story about courage and survival; not your make believe idol of worship.

    by: Micheal from: San Juan
    February 04, 2014 3:02 PM
    Well at least he survived everything the Ocean threw at him and God was the key no matter what anyone says! Plus they cant make a movie of this cau its already been done! LEAVE THE MAN ALONE NOW, IM SURE HE WANTS TO RECONNECT WITH HIS FAMILY NOW!

    by: Frank Burns
    February 04, 2014 2:47 PM
    Finally the voice of reason. People who think that this poor fisherman somehow got his boat towed to the other side of the world need to get real.

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