18-Year-Old Rescued After Being Stranded Out At Sea For A Month


Photo: Flickr/Annie Carrington

An 18-year-old hotel worker from Panama who went on a fishing expedition with two friends has been rescued after drifting in the high seas for nearly a month.The 10-foot boat containing Adrian Vasquez had travelled more than 600 miles in 28 days when it was found off Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands by a commercial fishing vessel.

His two friends had died more than a week earlier, and Mr Vasquez survived by eating raw fish. He told his rescuers that a sudden rainstorm towards the end of his ordeal saved his life after he ran out of water.

Dozens of people turned out to welcome the noticeably-thin teenager home when he arrived back in Panama to be reunited with his relieved parents. He wept as he embraced his relatives but did not speak to journalists.

Captain Hugo Espinosa of the Ecuador coastguard, whose patrol boat picked Mr Vasquez up from the commercial fishing ship, said he was suffering from malnutrition and severe dehydration when he was found.

The captain said: “He didn’t know what was happening. He was quiet, looking lost. Little by little he began to react. But the subject of his dead friends made him stay silent and lower his gaze. It cost him a lot to discuss the matter.”

Retelling Mr Vasquez’s extraordinary story, Captain Espinosa said the three friends were returning to their home town of Rio Hato on the south coast of Panama on February 24 in their boat, “50 Cents,” when its motor failed.

It was approaching dusk, but the group could see land and so were not unduly concerned. They had a large jug of water with them, and had caught a lot of fish, some of which they grilled on the boat during their first few days adrift.

Panama’s coastguard launched a search, but as the days passed, the fish became rotten and the men were forced to throw them overboard and live off what they could catch in their net.

Captain Espinosa said: “The spirits of the survivors began to wane with the passing of days.” After two weeks, Mr Vasquez told his rescuers, his friend Oropeces Betancourt, 24, stopped eating and drinking. He died on March 10, and Mr Vasquez said he threw his body overboard three days later because it had begun to decompose.

Sixteen-year-old Fernando Osorio died on March 15, apparently of dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke, and Vasquez was again forced to his push body into the sea after three days.

Out of water, and with unrelentingly sunny skies, Mr Vasquez assumed he would himself perish when, the next day, he skies opened.

Captain Espinosa said: “When he was nearly dead, on March 19, it rained, and Vasquez was able to fill up with four gallons of water.” The 18-year-old was reduced to eating raw fish when, on March 25, he was spotted by fishermen on a skiff which had sailed from the Duarte V ship.

Following his rescue, he asked to make two phone calls – the first to his mother, and the second to the boss at his hotel to explain why he had failed to turn up to work.

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