Man Is Lost At Sea For 438 Days - How Did He Survive?

Quick Fishing Excursion

The man we’ll talk about today is José Salvador Alvarenga. On a pretty normal day in November 2012, José was getting ready for a fishing trip off the coast of Mexico, as he had done many times before. However, little did he know that this time, his life would change forever.

The 32-year-old was an experienced sailor and fisherman and knew exactly what he was getting himself into. He was going on a normal fishing excursion with his buddy, Ray Perez, leaving their village to set sail off the coast of Chiapas, Mexico. However, the plan was a little too ambitious, even for experienced fishermen...

Last-Minute Changes

The two men were planning on going on an overnight deep-sea fishing expedition that would take about 30 hours. They were hoping to come back with a great catch of mahi-mahi, tuna, marlins, sailfish, and perhaps even shark, which would give them a week’s worth of income.

Ray and José got their 24-foot boat ready and equipped it with a pretty big icebox made of fiberglass to store the fish, and they also made sure that the motor was working. But right before their trip was supposed to begin, Ray backed out and said he couldn’t make it, so José had to find another companion to go on the expedition with him.

A New Companion

Finding another companion wouldn’t be very easy on such short notice, but José still wanted to give it a try. After all, going on such a long trip alone would be very boring. He needed to find a man who was fit enough to endure such an intense trip, and that man was Ezequiel Córdoba, a 23-year-old man whose friends nicknamed Piñata .

Ezequiel lived on the far end of the lagoon and was known in his village as a soccer star. The two met for the first time and believed they were a good match, and Ezequiel accepted the job in exchange for $50. Now, everything was ready for the two men to set sail into the deep sea off the Mexican coast.

Quick Money

José Alvarenga thought that this 30-hour fishing trip wouldn’t be such a challenge, given that he was a very experienced fisherman, and that this opportunity would allow him to catch enough fish to make quick money and not have to spend too much time out in the ocean. But there was one problem he didn’t think much about.

See, the boat they were taking was low and uncovered, and therefore, not ready to weather any storms. Of course, José checked the weather forecast in advance, but you can never really know 100% what is going to happen. The two men didn’t think much about it, and also didn’t double-check whether all the electronic devices on the boat were working properly, something that they would regret later...

Great Catch

The two men brought a GPS with them, but it wasn’t waterproof. That meant that if it got in contact with water, they would no longer have a device to see where they were exactly located. However, since Alvarenga didn’t have any problems with it in the past, he wasn’t worried at all. Also, he had his phone with him, just in case.

It was time for the men to set sail on November 17, 2012, and the trip was very successful at the beginning. They had brought 70 gallons of gasoline, 16 gallons of water, 200 pounds of ice to keep the catch cold, and 50 pounds of sardines for bait. Thanks to how well-equipped they were, they caught 1,100 pounds worth of fish in just one day, but this would actually prove to be dangerous for the two men at sea.

Surprise Storm

While they caught an immense amount of fish that would certainly make them a lot of money, the cooler was filled up to capacity, and the bounty was extremely heavy, which made the boat feel unstable. Because of this, the men thought it was time to go back home, as they couldn’t catch any more fish that day.

But just as they were making their way back to shore, the two men were caught in an unexpected storm. They hadn’t seen it coming because the sky seemed perfectly clear before, and storms weren’t common at that time of year. As a result, they weren’t prepared at all to face this dangerous, life-threatening storm.

The Beginning Of The End

As we’ve said before, the men were very well-equipped. But the 700 hooks, three knives, and different tools they had weren’t of any help to them at this point. They had lots of fishing equipment, but basically, nothing was needed for survival. And on top of that, the small boat they were in was filled up to capacity with all the fish they had caught.

The towering waves kept pushing the boat toward the wrong direction — away from the shore and into the open sea. If one wave was too strong, the boat could be flipped over or broken in half, which would lead to the certain death of the fishermen. And this was only the beginning of the dangers they would have to face.

Don't Panic

José kept calm because his experience taught him that in such a situation, the worst thing you can do is panic. Ezequiel, on the other hand, was freaking out. He bailed the water out of the boat frantically and held onto the rail with both hands and screamed at the top of his lungs when he realized that he couldn’t get rid of all the water that was flooding the boat.

Meanwhile, José was focused on trying to steer the boat in the right direction, and he bravely navigated through the storm. Like the true sailor he was, he maneuvered the boat through the powerful waves and got them a bit closer to the shore. However, things got worse and worse as time went by.


Thanks to José’s determination, the fishermen got slightly closer to land and even managed to spot a mountain in the distance. However, that’s when the motor started making very strange noises. If the boat’s engine stopped working, they would have to row, which would be almost impossible for the fishermen in that situation.

Unfortunately, just a few moments later, the engine broke down, and the two men were officially stranded in the middle of the ocean. At this point, José started panicking as well, but then remembered that he had a radio on board, and a little gleam of hope lit up inside them.


José was hoping that his boss, Willy, would hear them through the radio, so he wasted no time and sent out an SOS to him. But the battery was only half charged, sadly, so they had a very limited time frame to reach for help. Luckily, Willy answered immediately, and managed to hear José screaming: "Willy! The motor is ruined!"

While trying to calm José down, Willy asked him for his coordinates, so he could send a rescue team right away. But that wouldn’t be possible, as the GPS wasn’t working anymore. Because the device wasn’t waterproof, it got damaged as soon as the water hit the boat, and now they couldn’t be located.


Time was running out, and the fishermen couldn’t think of anything to do. Willy thought it would be a good idea to lay an anchor so that they wouldn’t drift away any further, and so they would be easier to find. But guess what? They didn’t have one, cause they thought they wouldn’t need one anyway.

The truth was that José had never used one before and didn’t want to occupy any more space that could be filled up with fish. After telling Willy that they didn’t have an anchor, Willy realized that time was of the essence, and promised that he would try his best to find them right away. That was the last time he spoke to them.

The Search Mission

Willy quickly reported José and Ezequiel missing to the Chiapas authorities, and a search boat was rapidly sent out to look for the lost fishermen. The problem was that they had no idea where to look since their location was unknown. Because of this, the rescuers had to call for airborne backup.

That same day, an airborne search team was dispatched, and they looked for the fishermen for 48 hours. The search was called off because of poor visibility from the bad weather, and they decided to wait until the storm cleared to look for them again. Meanwhile, the two men were alone, in the middle of the ocean, desperate...

What Now?

First came the panic, then the sadness, and then, finally, the anger. José was angry at himself for not packing any survival essentials and not charging the radio’s batteries fully, so he started throwing stuff overboard, including the broken GPS and the dead radio. And that wasn’t all he did.

In a fit of rage, he also grabbed a large club used to kill large fish, and he hit the motor of the boat out of frustration. Now there was no way they could even attempt to repair it. Meanwhile, all their friends and family were waiting for them to be found, but to no avail. The realization that they might not ever come back home started to slowly sink in.

New Course Of Action

After about three days of being lost at sea, the two fishermen realized that they were probably never coming home, so they had to come up with a new plan. There wasn’t much that they could do because the weather was still very bad, and a wave even sent them high into the air and knocked them down a few times.

The first tough decision they had to make was to throw away their precious catch because it was weighing down the boat. They had to drop them into the water one by one, however, so as not to attract sharks with the blood of the dead fish. Luckily, no sharks got to them, and they got rid of all the fish they had.


The two men adapted quite well to their first days as castaways, using basic survival techniques despite the horrible weather conditions. They decided to also get rid of the ice and gasoline since they weren’t going to use any of it. They also used the three buckets they had to bail the water out of the boat, and that’s how they spent most of their time.

José also tied about 50 buoys together as an improvised anchor to keep them afloat and give them stability. Because their clothes were soaking wet and temperatures dropped dramatically at night, they had to huddle together and try to generate some warmth with their own bodies, though they were so cold that they couldn’t even make a fist with their hands.

Going Nowhere

The waves kept steering the boat in random directions, and the fishermen had absolutely no idea where they were being taken. They had almost used all the bait and hooks they had on fishing, so they needed a new technique to get food somehow. Instinctively, Alvareda started catching fish with his own hands while keeping an eye on the water for sharks.

He was surprisingly good at it and caught enough food to keep both men fed for a while. He also managed to catch some turtles and flying fish as well. Meanwhile, Ezequiel was in charge of slicing them and drying them under the sun. Together, they made a pretty good team, and their hopes started going up.


One of the biggest problems of being lost at sea is, ironically, the lack of drinking water. Although you’re literally surrounded by water, salt water is sure to kill you if you drink too much of it. That’s why the two lost fishermen started to become dehydrated. But José got an idea that would keep them alive, at least for a while.

The two men started drinking their own urine, as well as the blood from the turtles they caught, which would provide them with at least a little hydration. However, the urine just made their thirst worse, and the two started losing hope again. Their only salvation would be another storm, at least if they managed to survive it...

A Blessing

Two weeks into their tragic voyage, the men were awakened by the sound of water splatting on the boat. It had started raining, and they could finally have some water to drink. They felt like it was a blessing from above, and they wasted no time and drank as much rainwater as they possibly could.

They filled up the buckets and bottles they had, and also opened their mouths and put their heads up to get the water straight from the source. This would allow them to stay alive, at least for a few days more. However, they had to ration their precious water, or else they could be dangerously dehydrated once more.


Hours turned into days, and days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. The two men were still alive, floating somewhere in the ocean, and people already thought they were dead. The castaways survived thanks to rainwater and the fish they caught with their hands, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy their hunger.

They even resorted to eating jellyfish, which they would put into their mouths and swallow whole even though it would burn their throats. They also caught some garbage that was floating in the ocean, and although the food in it was rotten, the men happily ate it, as they would’ve done anything to survive.


Aside from hunger and dehydration, the two men didn’t have much in their minds. After all, it was just them two stranded in the middle of nowhere, so they had no choice but to talk to each other. This helped them get to know each other and have a heart to heart like they never had before.

They talked about their childhoods, their mothers, and their lives in general. They both shared the same feeling that they hadn’t been good sons growing up, and they asked God for forgiveness together. This led them to make a pact: should only one survive, he would tell the other’s mother goodbye on his behalf and let her know that her son was with God now.

Losing Hope

Out of the two, Ezequiel was the most fragile one. He spent most of his time crying and fell into a deep depression, and he was convinced that he would not survive. He was so depressed that he shut down, and refused to eat about two months into their accident. Plus, the raw food they had been eating started to make him sick.

José tried to feed him and put food in his mouth, but Ezequiel clenched his mouth closed. That’s when José knew that he had lost his will to live and that he didn’t have much time left on this Earth. As much as he tried to give Ezequiel some hope and encourage him to fight, there was no use.

Saying Goodbye

One morning, Ezequiel refused to drink water, and he murmured to José “I’m dying, I’m dying“. His body then started convulsing, and suddenly tensed up. José was desperately trying to wake him up, but it was too late, and Ezequiel was gone. José was too fragile emotionally to accept his friend’s death, however.

He would talk to him as if nothing had happened, and only after six whole days, he decided to accept the fact that his friend wasn’t going to wake up, ever. He took Ezequiel’s shirt as a memory, and let his body go into the water. He was in so much pain from losing his friend, that he passed out.


José felt terribly guilty from bringing Ezequiel on this trip without being prepared, and he felt that his death was on his shoulders. The loneliness was eating him inside, and many times he thought about ending it all. Yet, some strength within him helped him to keep going and spent most of his time with his imagination.

He spent days and nights in a fantasy world, imagining that he was walking down the street, eating delicious food, and spending time with friends. At one point though, he saw a large container ship in the distance, but no one was there. Yet, he kept his hopes up, as he believed someday someone would find him.


When José was a boy, his grandfather taught him how to read lunar cycles, so he used the phases and cycle of the waning and waxing of the moon to keep track of how much time was going by. During his time in the open sea, he witnessed fourteen lunar cycles, which translates to ten months.

The further out to sea he drifted, the storms became easier to handle and lasted less, which helped him stay alive. Without an extra helping hand, he had to bail out the water that got into the boat all by himself, as well as catching fish and slicing them all on his own. How much longer would he have to wait to be rescued?


One morning, however, his life changed forever once more. He woke up and looked up at the sky, and saw many birds flying over his head. This meant that land was close, so he quickly stood up, and saw something unbelievable: there was a small tropical atoll in the middle of the water, no bigger than a football field.

And he wasn’t hallucinating! He quickly cut the buoys off the boat and tried to lead the boat to the tiny island, as he was terrified of being pulled back or be pulled farther away. He had to be careful not to flip the boat over, but he needed to pick up speed to reach the island.

Safe At Last

But José made it to the shore, and a couple that was living on the tiny island saw him come out of the water and quickly ran to help him. They gave him water, food, and shelter, and helped him get back on his feet while his family was located. He was reunited with his loved ones soon thereafter, and he felt as he was reborn.

After his tragic experience, José wrote a book and became famous around the world. His problems aren’t over, however, because Ezequiel’s family sued him because they believe they are entitled to a cut of the proceeds from the book sales. The outcome of the lawsuit is pending, but we just hope José can finally catch a break!