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Twenty-eight days later, Adrian Vasquez was found drifting alone in the 10-foot (three-meter) fishing boat. He was in the waters off Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from where the trio had set out to fish.
His two friends had died, and he likely owed his survival to a sudden rainstorm, the Ecuadorean coast guard captain who helped nurse Vasquez back to health said Monday, speaking by phone from San Cristobal island.
Vasquez was flown Monday to Guayaquil on the Ecuadorean mainland, to be turned over to the Panamanian consul, and was not immediately reachable for comment.
Capt. Hugo Espinosa's patrol boat picked up Vasquez early Sunday from commercial fishermen who had stumbled across the Panamanian drifting in the Pacific on Friday.
The captain said the young Panamanian recounted the following story after recovering over the weekend from malnutrition and severe dehydration:
Vasquez and his friends were returning to Rio Hato, Panama, where he worked at the Decameron Hotel, on Feb. 24 aboard the "Fifty Cents" when its motor failed. It was about 6 p.m., and they could see land. They had caught a lot of fish, and had big jug of water.
In the first few days, as Panama's coast guard began to search for the young men, the trio grilled fish on the boat. But then their ice melted and the fish rotted. They had to toss them overboard and live off what they could catch with their net.
"The spirits of the survivors began to wane with the passing of days," Espinosa said.
Oropeces Betancourt, the oldest at 24, stopped eating and drinking after two weeks. He died on March 10. Three days later, his body began to decompose and Vasquez threw it over the side.
The other youth, 16-year-old Fernando Osorio, died on March 15, also apparently of dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke. After three days, Vasquez pushed his other friend's body into the ocean.
Vasquez then ran out of water, and the days were all sunny.
"When he was nearly dead, on March 19, it rained, and Vasquez was able to fill up with four gallons of water," said Espinosa.
He spent the next five days eating raw fish, then he was spotted by commercial fisherman working on a skiff from a mother ship, the Duarte V.
Once aboard, Vasquez asked for a telephone so he could make two calls. The first was to his mother. The second was to the hotel manager to explain why he had missed so many days of work.
The Ecuadorean coast guard vessel, the Isla Espaniola, rendezvoused with the fishing vessel around 2 a.m. Sunday and took Vasquez on board.
"He didn't know what was happening. He was quiet, looking lost," Espinosa said.
After oral and intravenous hydration and several hours of sleep, Vasquez woke up, starved and thirsty, the captain recalled.
"Little by little he began to react," Espinosa said. "But the subject of his dead friends made him stay silent and lower his gaze. It cost him a lot to discuss the matter."