Skip to main content

For missing man's mother, castaway's survival story is tale of grief

From Nick Parker, CNN
February 10, 2014 -- Updated 1725 GMT (0125 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jose Salvador Alvarenga's survival at sea has drawn global attention
  • The castaway's companion, Ezequiel Cordova, is presumed dead
  • Cordova's mother calls the news a "devastating blow" and demands answers

El Fortin, Mexico (CNN) -- Roselia Rios cried as cameras rolled and headlines trumpeted a castaway's survival after more than a year adrift.

The dramatic rescue in the Marshall Islands brought heartbreaking news for Rios: Jose Salvador Alvarenga had survived, but her son, who was with him, had perished at sea.

"For me, it was a devastating blow," she told CNN last week. "The pain is so great I can't explain it. I wouldn't wish this on anybody. Losing a child is the hardest thing to bear in life."

Her son, 23-year-old Ezequiel Cordova, set sail from Mexico with Alvarenga in late 2012. Both men were members of a small fishing cooperative and had planned to spend a day catching sharks.

Castaway finally heads home
New details in castaway's story
'Castaway' released from the hospital

But something went terribly wrong. Winds blew them off course, a storm raged and their engines failed, Alvarenga told authorities.

Four weeks into their drift, according to Alvarenga, Cordova died of starvation because he refused to eat raw birds and turtles. Eventually, he said, he threw the body overboard.

"What else could I do?" Alvarenga said.

Now, as Alvarenga begins his journey home to El Salvador, Rios is grieving her son's death, more than a year after he went missing.

His bedroom in the family's home in the village of El Fortin, Mexico, remains exactly as he left it -- a simple green plaid blanket draped over the bed.

Jovani Cordova says his brother was kind and worked hard to help their family.

"He was responsible for my mother. In fact, he worked in the sea because of her," he said. "He wanted to improve himself. He didn't want to be poor like us."

The road in the rural community is so bad it's easier to travel by boat. A short ride took Cordova to where he worked, the nearby town of Costa Azul.

Members of the cooperative, where fishermen make an average of $150 a week, still remember the frantic search to find him and Alvarenga after their boat went missing.

"My colleagues went to fish, and the next day they told me by radio that the engine failed and the GPS device was wet. We went to search for them for seven or eight days with the authorities," said Bellarmino Rodrigues, who owned the boat. "The governor gave us a small aircraft, but it was impossible to find them."

Back at the family home, Rios told CNN she was focused on one thing.

"As a mother, I demand that the authorities allow me to talk to the survivor," she said last week. "Only in that way will I know what happened and what he did with the body of my son. I deserve the truth."

READ: Five things about the castaway's tale

READ: Castaway begins his journey home from Marshall Islands

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
A captured fighter tells CNN's Ivan Watson: "They gave us drugs... that made you go to battle."
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
A terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life checks off the last item.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
In a plot straight out of Hollywood, federal agents gain access to a suspected Triad boss' Vegas hotel room by pretending to fix the Internet connection.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 0434 GMT (1234 HKT)
Was it only black and Latino men who harassed a woman in NYC? The filmmaker has found himself in a race controversy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
The history of human rights often overlooks the struggles of gay people. This must change.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT)
Armed with Kalashnikovs and chanting for the dead comrades, women are among ISIS' most feared enemies. They are fighting for their families -- and now they are getting U.S. help.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Lere Mgayiya put his best foot forward and set up a shoe-shine firm after his career plans fell flat.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT)
One Chinese drone manufacturer wants to take away the warmongering stigma of "drones."
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
Sketcher Luis Simoes is traveling the world -- slowly. And he's packed his sketchbook.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
European states help North Korea's brutal treatment of its people by allowing luxury goods like cars and cognacs to evade sanctions, two experts say.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT