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Castaway fisherman returns to El Salvador

Crowd gathers to welcome man who says he spent a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean, surviving on fish and turtle blood.

Last updated: 12 Feb 2014 06:54
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Jose Salvador Alvarenga was overcome with emotion after arriving at San Salvador airport [Reuters]

A fisherman from El Salvador who says he spent more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean has arrived home, sobbing as he touched down at an airport in the capital San Salvador.

Dozens of people crowded the airport on Tuesday night for a glimpse of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, 37, who previously told officials he survived by drinking turtle blood and catching fish and birds with his bare hands, before washing ashore in the Marshall Islands at the end of January.

"I can't find any words to say," an emotional Alvarenga said on Tuesday, according to a Reuters news agency report.

The famous castaway was reunited with family at the airport before being taken to a local hospital in a wheelchair for further tests.

I'm so happy to know he's alive, that he returned.

Emma Alvarenga, aunt

While the exact dates remain unclear, Alvarenga is believed to have set sail on a shark-fishing trip from southern Mexico in late December 2012 before being blown out to sea, drifting for months and washing up some 10,000km away in the Marshall Islands.

He was found in a disoriented state on a remote coral atoll in his 7.3-meter fiberglass boat.

'Struggle for life'

Wearing a dark blue T-shirt and khakis, Alvarenga, who was in a wheelchair at the airport, put his hands to his face and sobbed when Foreign Minister Jaime Miranda handed him a microphone.

"We ask for your understanding. He's had a very exhausting trip," Miranda said, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Miranda called Alvarenga's story one of "faith but also a story of struggle for life."

The journey back home after a week of rest and medical treatment in the atoll was marked by long layovers in Honolulu and Los Angeles, where doctors checked Alvarenga's health.

"I'm so happy to know he's alive, that he returned. I want to give him a hug," aunt Emma Alvarenga said.

The castaway's 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, made an archway of palms for the front door of the family home and a sign that said: "Welcome."

Alvarenga, who has been a fisherman for 15 years, previously said he set sail with another fisherman who died weeks into their ordeal.

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