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Consumer Reports

Never say 'Never': Long-missing mariner found adrift | (UPI) -- Somewhere in Guatemala is a 62-year-old American sailor with an epic sea story to tell.

Richard Van Pham of Long Beach, Calif., was ashore for the first time in 3 months after being rescued by a Navy warship on an anti-drug patrol more than 2,500 miles from his home, The San Diego Union-Tribune said Tuesday. He was believed to be arranging to get home with $800 collected by the crew of the USS McClusky.

"This is an amazing story of survival," Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Lance Jones told the newspaper Monday, a day after Van Pham was dropped off in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala by the San Diego-based frigate.

Van Pham was described as being in relatively good shape after surviving on rainwater, fish and sea birds, though he was 40 pounds lighter than he was in early June when he set sail from Long Beach harbor for what was supposed to be a routine 25-mile sail to Catalina Island.

"He's a tough old bird," Cmdr. Gary Parriott, the McClusky's skipper, told the Union-Tribune by satellite phone Monday. "I'm not sure I would have fared as well as he did."

Van Pham could not immediately be located in Guatemala, but members of the McClusky's crew told the newspaper that Van Pham survived on fish and sea turtles and used bits of their flesh to lure gulls and other birds that were also added to the menu when they landed on the splintered mast.

When the McClusky pulled alongside the battered boat, which had first spotted by a Customs Service reconnaissance plane on Sept. 17, Van Pham was barbecuing a sea gull on a makeshift grill using some of the boat's wooden trim for a fire.

A Spanish-speaking petty officer hailed the castaway and Van Pham shouted back that he only spoke English. After being brought aboard, the 26-foot Sea Breeze was scuttled in 8,700 feet of water while Van Pham was checked out in the sick bay.

"He waved goodbye to his sailboat," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Slaight. "He was upset (that it would be scuttled) and said he was going to miss it."

Although Catalina is generally visible from the Los Angeles County coast, a storm that moved through the area dismasted the Sea Breeze. The boat's radio and engine also failed, leaving Van Pham at the mercy of the currents that carried him south past San Diego and the entire west coast of Mexico.

Van Pham was never reported missing by any of his friends and he said he had no family, so a search for the Sea Breeze was never launched.

"It also shows the importance of filing a float plan with friends or family," said the Coast Guard's Jones.

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