Latin America & Caribbean

El Salvador castaway Alvarenga finally arrives home

A castaway from El Salvador - who says he spent more than a year adrift in the Pacific - has finally arrived home.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, 37, was met by family members and officials after flying from the US.

He was found washed up two weeks ago in the Marshall Islands. He says he left Mexico for a trip in a boat in December 2012 with a friend who died on board.

He apparently survived the 8,000km (5,000-mile) ordeal by catching fish, birds and turtles with his bare hands.

For fluids, he claimed to have drunk urine, rainwater and the blood of birds.

'Warrior'

Mr Alvarenga was rescued on 30 January by people living on the island of Ebon Atoll.

He was found dehydrated and suffering from back pain and swollen joints.

Mr Alvarenga landed at El Salvador's international airport, near the capital San Salvador, at about 20:00 local time on Tuesday (02:00 GMT Wednesday) after flying from Los Angeles.

"We are happy he is coming back after so much time," his cousin Marisol Alvarenga was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

"He could have died. But thanks to God my cousin is a warrior, because I don't know what would have happened to another person," she added.

Man playing the guitar in Garita Palmeira
Local residents played music to shorten the wait for Mr Alvarenga
Jose Salvador Alvarenga's aunt on 11 February 2014
Mr Alvarenga's aunt says she is worried about her nephew's health

At the airport's VIP lounge, Mr Alvarenga was met by El Salvador's foreign minister and other government officials.

Dozens of journalists also gathered at the airport.

On his way from the Marshall Islands Mr Alvarenga had long stopovers in Hawaii and Los Angeles, where doctors had checked his health and ability to continue the trip.

Mr Alvarenga will now undergo further checks before a decision is taken whether he should stay overnight in a local hospital or can return to his coast fishing village of Garita Palmeira.

The family of his younger friend say they want to speak to Mr Alvarenga to find out more about how their son died, and what happened to his body.

Known as Ezequiel, he is believed to have starved after being unable to eat raw birds and fish.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga
After his trip, Mr Alvarenga was sporting a long beard and long, dishevelled hair
Mr Alvarenga's boat , washed up on Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands
Mr Alvarenga's boat washed up on Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands

Three Mexican fishermen were rescued off the Marshall Islands in August 2006 after what they said was about nine months drifting across the Pacific Ocean.

They survived on rain water, seabirds and fish.

Castaways from Kiribati, to the south, frequently find land in the Marshall Islands after ordeals of weeks or months at sea in small boats.

More on this story