Man's Incredible Year-at-Sea Story Is 'Plausible'

Mexican officials seem to back some details of Jose Salvador Alvarenga's tale

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 4, 2014 11:27 AM CST

(Newser) – A mysterious man drifted ashore in the Marshall Islands last week, and his story is almost unbelievable—but is it too unbelievable? A refresher: Jose Salvador Alvarenga says he and a teen named Ezekiel set out from Mexico in December 2012 and ended up adrift at sea; Ezekiel perished, but Alvarenga says he survived on a diet of turtles, fish, birds, and rainwater for 13 months. If that was indeed the case, the AP notes, it "would rank among the greatest tales ever of survival at sea." But many have observed that when Alvarenga was found, he didn't appear emaciated. His ankles and other parts of his body looked puffy, says US ambassador Tom Armbruster, and he seemed generally healthy. So is the story true? The Guardian shares details from Mexican officials that lend some credibility:

  • A boat with two fishermen did indeed go missing after setting out from Costa Azul on November 17, 2012.
  • The names cited in the official report are Cirilo Vargas and Ezekiel Córdova. The latter is seemingly a match with that of his dead companion. As for the former, the AP reports that, according to his family, "Cerilo" was Alvarenga's childhood nickname.
  • Further, Cirilo Vargas was said to be from El Salvador, where Alvarenga was born.
  • But according to the report, both were 38; Alvarenga says he's 37 and his partner was a teenager. But errors often appear in such reports, the Guardian notes.
  • National Geographic speaks to an expert on human survival: "The bottom line is that this man's story is plausible," the expert says, though he notes that Alvarenga "would have lost a lot of weight."

In this Feb. 3, 2014 photo, a man who identifies himself as Jose Salvador Alvarenga, center, gets off a ship in Majuro, the Marshall Islands.
In this Feb. 3, 2014 photo, a man who identifies himself as Jose Salvador Alvarenga, center, gets off a ship in Majuro, the Marshall Islands.   (AP Photo/Marshall Island Journal)
In this Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 photo, a man identifying himself as 37-year-old Jose Salvador Alvarenga sits on a couch in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, after he was rescued from being washed ashore.
In this Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 photo, a man identifying himself as 37-year-old Jose Salvador Alvarenga sits on a couch in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, after he was rescued from being washed ashore.   (AP Photo/Foreign Affairs Department The Marshall Islands, Gee Bing)
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