Colombian Navy Press Office via AP
BOGOTA, Colombia – The Colombian Navy has rescued a man from Dominica who says he survived 24 days adrift in the Caribbean on a sailboat while eating ketchup, garlic powder and seasoning cubes.
Elvis Francois, 47, had scrawled the word “help” in English on the hull of the boat, which officials said was the key to his rescue.
The sailboat was spotted from the air 120 nautical miles northwest of the La Guajira peninsula and Francois was taken to the port city of Cartagena by a passing container ship, the Colombian navy said in a statement on Wednesday. .
Francois told Colombian authorities his ordeal began in December when currents swept the sailboat out to sea as it carried out repairs off the island of Saint Martin in the Netherlands Antilles, where he lives.
“I called my friends, they tried to contact me, but I lost the signal. There was nothing else to do but sit and wait,” François recalled in a video released by the navy.
He said he subsisted on a bottle of ketchup, garlic powder and Maggi cubes.
Cmdt. Carlos Urbano Montes told The Associated Press Thursday that Francis said he collected rainwater with a rag. He said Francois was found healthy, but told an official he had lost weight.
Francois said on the videotape that he had to constantly remove the water from the boat to keep it from sinking. He also tried to light a fire to send a distress signal without success.
Finally, a plane passed and signaled with a mirror. He said the Navy told him he was spotted when the plane passed by.
“At some point I lost hope and thought of my family, but I thank the Coast Guard. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be telling the story,” Francois said.
Urbano Montes said the sailboat was abandoned at sea when Francis was picked up by the merchant vessel.
The navy said Francois underwent a medical examination ashore and then was handed over to immigration authorities for his return to Dominica.