Three fishermen who say they survived nine months adrift in the Pacific Ocean returned to Mexico on Friday from 5,500 miles away to vehemently deny news media speculation that they were involved in drug trafficking or resorted to cannibalism to survive.
Survivor Jesus Vidana, whose 4-month-old daughter was born while he was at sea, addressed the doubters of his tale, as all three fishermen offered to take a lie detector test.
"I hope what happened to us doesn't happen to them," Vidana said during a brief news conference the three gave upon their arrival to the Mexico City international airport early Friday morning. "Personally, I'm just grateful that I'm here alive."
Mexico's attorney general says there is no evidence that the fishermen were smuggling drugs, but that officials would continue to look into the case because their hometown is considered to be in a drug trafficking zone.
Vidana, along with Lucio Rendon and Salvador Ordoñez, say they left the Mexico port of San Blas, in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit, on Oct. 28, 2005. They were rescued 285 days later by a Taiwanese fishing boat near the Marshall Islands.
The fishermen said they set out with the boat's owner and another man on a shark-fishing expedition they expected to last a few days. But their 27-foot (8.23-meter) open boat with no cabin was swept out to sea and they ran out of gas. Exposed to the elements, the three survived by eating raw fish and birds and drinking rain water.
Other crewmembers died
Ordoñez said that shortly after leaving San Blas, the crew lost its fishing equipment and was ordered by the boat's owner, whom the three survivors knew only as "Señor Juan," to go look for it. Ordoñez said he recommended against it, "but he told me he could do what he wanted because he was the owner," he said. They ran out of gas during the search, he said.
Both "Señor Juan" and another man died after they refused to eat the raw food, the fishermen said. "Señor Juan" died in January, while the second man died in February, the fishermen said Friday.
Over the months, prevailing currents pushed their spartan boat across the Pacific. They passed their time reading the Bible, singing and dancing. Earlier this month, they were spotted by the fishing vessel.
During the news conference, Rendon addressed doubts about their story.
"Those who are fisherman know these things happen," he said.
When asked if they would submit to a lie detector test, all three emphatically responded, "Of course."
Responding to questions about why they appeared to be in such good physical health following their ordeal, Ordoñez said they owed that to their rescuers, who fed them a great deal of food and made sure they rested.
"They treated us very well, with air conditioning, and they didn't let us go out into the sun," said Ordoñez, nicknamed "El Gato," or "The Cat," by boatmates for his bird catching skills. "They gave us a lot of food."
Warm welcome home
With their return, the Mexican news media on Friday seemed to embrace the astonishing tale of the three plainspoken fishermen, whose tearful family members appeared in television broadcasts from their homes in the coastal states of Nayarit and Sinaloa.
Vidana's wife was too emotional to speak as she held her sleeping 4-month-old baby girl in a television studio.
Vidana, asked by an anchor on TV Azteca whether he was afraid of the sea, said, "No. Why would I be? You have to have respect for the sea but not fear."
On Friday they were scheduled to continue their journey home to the coast.
When asked what they planned to do next, Salvador said, "see the family for three or four days and then get back to work."