Castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga crossed the Pacific Ocean again Monday — this time in a plane instead of a fishing boat — on his way home to El Salvador.
In the small town of Garita Palmera, a hero's welcome awaits the long-lost shark fisherman who says he spent more than a year lost at sea before washing up on the Marshall Islands.
"I thank God for watching over him and returning him to us," said his mother, Maria Julia Alvarenga, who has not seen her son in eight years.
The family was preparing pupusas for a homecoming meal and fixing up his boyhood bedroom for him. His teenage daughter, Fatima, who barely knows him, said she planned to give him a big hug.
It was unclear when the world-famous sea survivor would arrive. Earlier Monday, flew from the Marshall Islands to Honolulu for the first leg of his journey home.
Alvarenga, 37, left El Salvador some 15 years ago to work as a fisherman in Mexico and last visited in 2006. He and a friend left Chiapas on a fishing trip in November 2012 and were swept out to sea.
The other man, Ezequiel Cordoba, 24, died on the 24-foot fiberglass boat, but Alvarenga said he survived on raw fish and other sea creatures he caught by hand, drinking his own urine when he ran out of rainwater.
His boat drifted to Ebon Atoll on Jan. 30, and islanders were shocked to find a shaggy-haired, bearded man in tattered underwear with a wild tale of being adrift on the ocean.
Though there has been plenty of skepticism about Alvarenga's account, fellow fisherman in Mexico and Cordoba's family have backed up his timeline.
Telemundo's Angie Sandoval contributed to this report.
Campbell Live via AP
Jose Salvador Alvarenga makes a brief public appearance in Majuro, Marshall Islands, on Feb. 6, 2014.
First published February 10 2014, 3:43 AM
Gabe Gutierrez is an NBC News correspondent based in Atlanta, Ga. He joined the network in March 2012, and reports for all platforms of NBC News, including "TODAY," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," MSNBC, NBCLatino.com, and NBCNews.com, as well as Telemundo.
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Gutierrez came to NBC News from KHOU 11 News in Houston, Texas, where he worked as the station's City Hall reporter. Prior to working in Houston, Gabe was a weekend morning anchor and reporter at WJRT-TV, the ABC station in Flint, Mich. While at WJRT, he regularly produced and hosted the station's public affairs program in addition to covering the state legislature and the auto industry. His first on-air job was at WBOY-TV, the NBC affiliate in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he anchored weekend newscasts and reported during the week. While in college, Gutierrez interned at Telemundo in South Florida and at ABC News' satellite feed in Chicago.
Gutierrez was named "Best Reporter" in 2009 by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He also won an Emmy for his investigation into what several banks called one of the largest mortgage schemes ever in the state. The Associated Press also honored him for breaking news coverage and investigative reporting.
Originally from Miami, Gutierrez graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a double major in political science. He is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.