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Jose Salvador Alvarenga: Fisherman stranded at sea for 14 months was so lonely he talked to friend's corpse

Published 07/11/2015

Jose Salvador Alvarenga has returned to his native El Salvador (AP)
Jose Salvador Alvarenga has returned to his native El Salvador (AP)

A man who survived after being stranded at sea for 438 days talked to the body of is friend to counter the excruciating loneliness he experienced.

In January 2014, José Salvador Alvarenga, a fisherman from El Salvador, stumbled onto at a remote island in the Pacific, having drifted across the ocean for at least 5,500 miles after a storm hit his boat.

Although he emerged bedraggled, extremely underweight, scarred and heavily bearded, Alvarenga survived the 14 month ordeal. However, his crewmate Ezequiel Córdoba died after two months of surviving on just rainwater, birds and turtles.

Alvarenga recounted his experiences at sea and slow recovery to Jonathan Franklin for his book, 438 Days (Macmillan press).

According to Alvarenga, Córdoba’s health began seriously declining after he was sick from eating raw meat and started refusing food. Describing the panic that took hold of him as he realised his friend was dying, Alvarenga said he screamed: “Don’t leave me alone! You have to fight for life! What am I going to do here alone?”

After his death, Alvarenga began talking to the corpse, and asking him questions like: “How do you feel? How was your sleep?” He would answer his own questions with responses such as: “I slept good, and you? Have you had breakfast?”

This escalated into complete hallucinations, until Alvarenga came round six days later and realised he had been conversing with a body.

Alvarenga’s boat washed ashore on the remote island of Ebon Atoll and he was discovered by fishermen. His story captured international attention and a number of questions have arisen from his remarkable survival, with many amazed that he was not more emaciated after existing on such a meagre diet for over a year.

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