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Anyone who knows and loves the ocean also has a deep (and almost fearful) respect for it. The sea can be a graceful host one minute and an overpowering force the next. No one knows this better than fisherman Salvador Alvarenga, whose real-life Castaway story has been published into a book about his ordeal called 438 Days.
On Nov. 17, 2012, Alvarenga, an experienced fisherman originally from El Salvador, ignored storm warnings and headed out for a two-day fishing trip from the coast of Mexico. He left with a young, inexperienced assistant, 22-year-old Ezequiel Córdobal, whom he hadn’t worked with before.
Unbeknownst to Alvarenga, when he left that rainy day, it would be 438 days until he stepped onto dry land again. As viewers can see in the HLN clip below, he eventually resurfaced 6,600 miles away from Mexico:
[arve url=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/cU7hoW6YNqw” /]
After the storm threatened to sink their boat on that November day, Alvarenga and Córdoba radioed for help. Their GPS had stopped working, they had thrown all of their fish and equipment overboard in an attempt to stay afloat and their boat’s motor sputtered to a stop about 15 miles away from the shore.
While Córdoba fell into a depression and eventually lost the will to eat or drink water, dying several months into their ordeal, Alvarenga’s fishing skills served the two men well — and kept Alvarenga alive for over a year at sea.
The men collected rainwater whenever it came, storing it in discarded plastic bottles that they fished out of the ocean. They survived off of sea turtles, fish caught with Alvarenga’s bare hands (a skill he’d had since he was a child) and seabirds that landed on the boat, eating everything from their blood to their feathers.
A full 438 days after losing sight of land and months after losing his only companion, Salvador Alvarenga finally came across the Marshall Islands — remote islands in the middle of the central Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and the Philippines. When he was close enough, he dove overboard and swam ashore where a couple found him.
“There are still nights when I can’t sleep. The ocean keeps haunting me,” Alvarenga told CNN after his rescue. However, as the longest-surviving castaway who has gotten through his ordeal, he added, “I’m happy to be alive. I’m happy to be with my family. I’m proud to be what I am. I am simply glad I’m here.”