Salvadoran sea survivor leaves hospital after days of treatment, says faith kept him alive

  • Article by: MARCOS ALEMAN , Associated Press
  • Updated: February 18, 2014 - 10:30 PM
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Sea survivor Jose Salvador Alvarenga, center, is embraced by his parents, Ricardo Orellana, left, and Maria Julia Alvarenga outside of the hospital in San Salvador, El Salvador, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

Photo: Salvador Melendez, Associated Press - Ap

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The Salvadoran fisherman who says he drifted at sea for more than a year left a hospital Tuesday after treatment for the psychological and physical effects of his ordeal, and told reporters he survived because of his faith in God.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, 37, appeared strong and walked without help, but also seemed disoriented and had trouble speaking.

Alvarenga said he didn't plan to tell his story and didn't want to remember the ordeal.

"I always had faith that I was going to survive, asking (God) every day and every night," he said. "I never lost faith that one day I would be found."

Asked about the fate of his fishing companion, Ezequiel Cordova, 22, Alvarenga said Cordova lived four months in the boat before succumbing to starvation and exposure. Alvarenga has said that he lived on fish, turtles and birds and that Cordova had difficulty eating raw food.

Reporters asked if Alvarenga had eaten Cordova to survive, and he answered with an emphatic "No."

"He died of starvation and the sun," Alvarenga added.

He said Cordova's parents shouldn't worry for their son because he died praying to God: "The whole time he was asking for forgiveness."

Alvarenga's story stunned the world when he washed up on a Pacific atoll several weeks ago, seemingly robust and barely sunburned. But he turned out to be swollen, dehydrated and in pain from the ordeal.

He has said he came close to giving up hope of being rescued after several large ships came near his small fishing boat but none tried to rescue him, even though sailors on at least one even waved at him.

Doctors have been amazed by his physical condition after traveling 6,500 miles (10,000 kilometers) in a small fishing boat from Mexico to the Marshall Islands. He was believed lost in a storm while fishing off the coast of Mexico.

On Tuesday, doctors said he seemed mentally well, though he is afraid of the sea.

"He doesn't exhibit grave mental disorders like we feared, such as problems with thinking or perceptions," said a psychiatrist, Dr. Fredy Sermeno.

Alvarenga underwent a battery of tests at the hospital after being flown home.

The medical team that examined him at San Rafael Hospital in El Salvador's capital said he was in remarkably good physical health, with no skin lesions from overexposure to the sun and no cardiovascular or kidney issues. His only physical problem was anemia, doctors said.

Salvadoran experts who looked at Alvarenga's results said they didn't doubt the veracity of his tale, which left many people skeptical even without any alternate explanation for his appearance on the Ebon atoll.

Alvarenga said he was working in a fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico's southern Chiapas state, where the boat sailed from. A man with his nickname, "Cirilo," had been registered as missing with civil defense officials in the village. The officials said a small fishing boat carrying two men, the other named Ezequiel Cordova, disappeared during bad weather on Nov. 17, 2012, and no trace of them or the craft was found during an intense two-week search.

Alvarenga asked to be given as much privacy as possible amid an international media furor over his story. He will make a brief visit Wednesday to his hometown, the fishing village of Garita Palmera, but then return to San Salvador.

He said he couldn't return home permanently, but didn't know where he would go.

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