On January 31, 2012 a miraculous story hit the wires of a Mexican fisherman who had survived 14 months at sea. The images of a bearded and bedraggled man, appearing disoriented in front of cameras, captivated the world over. 

But what exactly happened on board the 25-foot skiff that ferried this man all the way from the Mexican port town of Costa Azul to a remote island in the South Pacific was largely unknown.

The survivor, 36-year-old Salvador Alvarenga, wasn’t talking much, and the few interviews he did grant were short on details. So rumors swirled.

Could the story be a coax. Chances were it was real based on the facts that were checked out. And what happened to his fishing partner, Ezequiel Córdoba, who reportedly died at some point during the drift? Could the survivor have killed the 22-year-old and eaten his flesh to stay alive?

Assumptions like these circulated until the story drifted out of the spotlight. Now for the first time, The Guardian reporter Jonathan Franklin offers the most detailed look at the endeavor in an excerpt from his new book 438 Days.

Long story short, Alvarenga did not murder his fishing partner, at least that’s what he says. Cordoba apparently died a little more than two months into the voyage largely due to a mental breakdown where he refused to eat. His body grew weaker and weaker until one day he died, Alvarenga says. 

“He asked me to tell his mother that he was sad he could not say goodbye and that she shouldn’t make any more tamales for him – they should let him go, that he had gone with God,” Alvarenga said according to The Guardian excerpt.

He did do something rather strange, however, once Cordoba had died. According to his own account, Alvarenga sat with the man’s corpse for six days speaking to him in full conversation until suddenly on a moonless light as if lifted out of a trance he snapped out of it.

Shocked to find himself speaking to a dead man, he then washed the man’s feet and stripped his body of clothing and dumped him in the water. As he did this, he fainted.

Alvarenga said he survived the remaining year by keeping his mind active, imagining he was strolling along a beach instead of pacing the deck. Finally, after 14 months at sea he spotted land. It was the Ebon Atoll on the southern tip of the 1,156 islands that make up the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

It is one of the most remote spots on earth, so if Alvarenga hadn’t drifted close enough to the island to make land he could have been at sea for many months longer. It was then that reporters flocked to the tiny island for a glimpse at the man behind this miraculous story.  

For more on the book 438 Days, click here

Photo credit: Dreamstime.com