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Man Lost at Sea for 24 Days Survives on Bottle of Ketchup

Elvis Francois boat rescue Colombia
47-year-old Elvis Francois was rescued after 24 days at sea / Photo -Armada de Colombia

A 47-year-old Dominican man has been rescued by the Colombian navy after a staggering 24 days adrift at sea.

Elvis Francois, from the small island of Dominica, was repairing a sailboat off the coast of St. Marten Island when bad weather pushed him out to sea.

"I tried to get back to port but I lost track because it took me a while to mount up the sail and to fix it," Francois told NBC News.

Francois then tried calling friends and coworkers on the island but lost service after reaching several miles offshore.

Not a sailor himself, Francois was unable to maneuver the boat and realized he was adrift.

"There was nothing else I could do but sit down and wait," he said.

After checking what few supplies were aboard, Francois knew he was in trouble.

“I had no food. There was only a bottle of ketchup that was on the boat, garlic powder and Maggi (stock cubes). So I mixed it up with some water for me to survive 24 days in the sea,” Francois said in a video posted by the Colombian navy.

Francois would then drift an astounding 1130 km (702 miles) southwest before being spotted 120 miles off the coast of Colombia by a navy aircraft. He was then helped by the commercial container ship Voltaire, who picked him up and brought him to Cartagena for medical treatment.

After 24 days, Francois had gone so far as to develop a technique for making the most of his valuable resources. Using some extra clothes he found onboard he placed them to collect rainwater during the few rainstorms that passed through. Each time he collected enough water, he mixed his ketchup and seasonings into the freshwater to create a soup of sorts.

During the downtime, Francois even managed to carve the word “HELP” onto the hull of his boat but wasn’t spotted by any passing ships. To further complicate matters, the damaged vessel was slowly taking on water, which he had to bail out periodically or risk sinking altogether. As desperation set in, he even lit a fire on his vessel to try and get the attention of a nearby ship, but to no avail.

The commercial ship 'Voltaire' and the Colombian Navy collaborated on the rescue

Then hope appeared in the form of an airplane passing overhead. “The final days, about Jan. 15, I saw a plane. I had a mirror. I was making some signals,” Francois said.

“They passed over the boat twice so I realized they saw me,” he added. “I am grateful for being alive today because of them.”

After some much needed downtime on dry land, Francois has finally been able to reflect on his ordeal.

“Twenty-four days – no land, nobody to talk to. Don’t know what to do, don’t know where you are. It was rough,” he said. “At a certain time, I lose hope. I think about my family.”

Colombian officials said Francois has since been handed over to immigration authorities who will organize his return home.

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