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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Sea survivor Alvarenga flies home

Published 10/02/2014 | 12:27

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Jose Salvador Alvarenga, left, bids farewell to Marshall Islands president Christopher Loeak before flying home (AP Photo/AP Video)
Jose Salvador Alvarenga has been staying at the Marshall Islands Resorts hotel in Majuro (AP)

A Salvadoran man who claims he drifted across the Pacific Ocean for at least 13 months in an open boat has flown out of the Marshall Islands on his way home.

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Clean-shaven and walking without assistance at the airport, Jose Salvador Alvarenga thanked the people and the president of the Marshall Islands for taking care of him since he washed ashore late last month with the amazing story of survival that many have questioned.

He told officials during his two-week recuperation at the hospital and a hotel in the capital, Majuro, that he left Mexico in late 2012 with another fisherman, who later died, when a storm threw them off course and he drifted across 6,500 miles (10,500 kilometres) of open ocean. He said he survived on fish, birds and turtles.

At Majuro airport, Alvarenga, 37, spoke in Spanish to Marshall Islands president Christopher Loeak, who came to bid him farewell.

"Thank you for the support, the support by your people," Mr Alvarenga said in a soft voice. "I am doing very well."

He flew out first to Hawaii and then on to El Salvador to be reunited with his family.

About 50 officials, volunteers and reporters gathered at the airport to see him off.

Mr Alvarenga, accompanied by Diego Dalton, an official from El Salvador's embassy in Tokyo, said that the people of the Marshall Islands were "very good" to him, and called them "my very good friends".

He appeared in a short news conference last Thursday looking weak and frail, but declined to answer any questions about his ordeal.

His family in El Salvador had spoken to him by phone since the story broke out. Mr Alvarenga's 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, said last week that she did not remember ever seeing her father, who left El Salvador when she was just over a year old.

Press Association

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