SAN SALVADOR — Overcome with emotion, castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga arrived home to El Salvador late Tuesday and was quickly whisked away to a hospital.
After a brief appearance at an airport press conference, the 37-year-old shark fisherman who claims to have spent more than a year lost at sea was loaded into an ambulance and driven away.
On the flight from Los Angeles to San Salvador — the last leg of a journey that began Monday in the Marshall Islands — Alvarenga complained that he was feeling ill.
Alvarenga's health has seemed precarious since he washed up on a remote Pacific atoll in a battered 24-foot fishing boat almost two weeks ago.
He claims that after being swept out to sea by a storm, he survived month after month on raw fish and other sea creatures, quenching his thirst with rainwater and his own urine.
Officials have said he was dehydrated from his oceanic odyssey, but he has also displayed difficulty walking and complained of swollen joints, aches and pains, and mental confusion.
His relatives, who have not seen him in eight years, planned to reunite at the hospital. His mother, who received a call from him Tuesday morning, told NBC partner Telemundo that her son "doesn't feel well yet."
"The most important thing is my son is alive," his father, Ricardo Orellana, told Telemundo.
"It's like my son was born again."
His son left his rural hometown of Garita Palmera 15 years ago to find work in Mexico and had not been back in years. In November 2012, he set out to sea with a fishing mate, vanished and was presumed dead.
His friend starved to death, but Alvarenga drifted onto remote Ebon Atoll in the middle of the Pacific on Jan. 30 — with a bushy beard, tattered underwear and an incredible tale of survival that many doubted could be true.
However, fellow fisherman in Mexico and the family of Alvarenga's fishing buddy, Ezequiel Cordoba, 24, have backed up his timeline.
"It's like my son was born again," said Jose's mother, Maria Julia Alvarenga.
In his hometown of Garita Palerma, relatives prepared for his arrival by making pupusas and fixing up the bedroom where he slept as a child.
Among those anxiously awaiting his return was his teenage daughter, Fatima. She said that even though she barely knew him, she planned to greet him with a big hug.
Telemundo's Angie Sandoval and NBC News' Tracy Connor contributed to this report.
First published February 11 2014, 12:08 PM