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

From Nick Parker, CNN
updated 12:25 PM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
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.

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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.

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