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Castaway begins journey home from Marshall Islands, stops in Hawaii

By Suzanne Chutaro, Miguel Marquez and Sarah Aarthun, CNN
updated 7:56 PM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A flight carrying Jose Salvador Alvarenga arrives in Hawaii
  • New details from the day castaway appeared lend weight to his story
  • A live bird was found tethered to his battered boat in the Marshall Islands
  • He communicated his story to his rescuers using charades and drawing pictures

Majuro, Marshall Islands (CNN) -- When islanders first got a glimpse of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, they saw an extremely weak man wearing only tattered underwear.

On his battered boat, a live bird was tethered by its foot -- narrowly missing becoming his next meal.

And as he recounted his story, faster than his rescuers could comprehend, Alvarenga ate like he hadn't had a full meal in months.

As crazy as it sounds, his tale just might be true after all.

New details from the day Alvarenga mysteriously turned up in the Marshall Islands appear to lend weight to his story of drifting across the Pacific Ocean for 13 months.

It was a rainy, windy day on Ebon, the atoll where Alvarenga was found January 30.

New details in castaway's story
Jose Salvador Alvarenga attends a news conference in Majuro, Marshall Islands, on Thursday, February 6. Alvarenga, who is from El Salvador, said he spent 13 months lost in the Pacific Ocean, floating from Mexico to the Marshall Islands, which is about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Jose Salvador Alvarenga attends a news conference in Majuro, Marshall Islands, on Thursday, February 6. Alvarenga, who is from El Salvador, said he spent 13 months lost in the Pacific Ocean, floating from Mexico to the Marshall Islands, which is about halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
Castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga
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Mayor Ione deBrum was first alerted to the mysterious visitor when a boy biked to her office from the other side of the island. The boy had been dispatched by Amy Libokmeto and Russell Laikedrik -- the islanders who first spotted Alvarenga, yelling and waving a knife from one island over.

Libokmeto motioned for him to drop the knife, and then the pair sprang into action, sending word to the mayor and providing Alvarenga with food, water and clean clothes, deBrum told CNN.

Alvarenga inhaled pancake after pancake as he and his rescuers communicated with each other using a mix of charades and hand-drawn pictures. DeBrum's son even helped translate the Salvadoran's story, using Spanish skills learned entirely from the animated children's series "Dora the Explorer."

The story was beyond belief for many.

Alvarenga said he set off in late 2012 from Mexico on what was supposed to be a one-day fishing expedition. But he and a 23-year-old companion were blown off-course by northerly winds and then caught in a storm, eventually losing the use of their engines. They had no radio signal to report their plight, he said.

Alvarenga said that four weeks into their drift, his companion died of starvation because he refused to eat raw birds and turtles. Eventually, he threw the body overboard.

Alvarenga's claims have garnered widespread skepticism about how he could survive the more than 6,000-mile trek across the open ocean. But officials in the Marshall Islands have said repeatedly they have no reason to doubt the story.

Map: Drifter found in Marshall Islands  Map: Drifter found in Marshall Islands
Map: Drifter found in Marshall IslandsMap: Drifter found in Marshall Islands

After more than a week on the island, Alvarenga began his journey home Monday.

He posed for photos with dignitaries from the Marshall Islands before boarding a plane headed for Hawaii.

Appearing frail but in good spirits, he was taken to the plane in a wheelchair and helped up the stairs by two people.

He said that he was very emotional, that he was feeling good and that he was looking forward to getting home.

Plans for his repatriation to El Salvador were postponed last week after his health took a turn for the worse. But Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Phillip Muller said Monday that the castaway was in good health and ready to travel. His flight from Amata Kabua International Airport arrived in Honolulu Monday.

He is expected to continue his journey and arrive in El Salvador on Tuesday.

READ: Officials: 'We gave up' trying to figure out how long castaway was adrift in Pacific

READ: Castaway moved to undisclosed location to avoid media crush, sources say

READ: Five things about the castaway's tale

Suzanne Chutaro and CNN's Miguel Marquez reported from Majuro, Marshall Islands. CNN's Sarah Aarthun wrote this report from Atlanta.

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