In what sounds like a movie script treatment come to life, a 19-year-old “lamp keeper” aboard a floating fish trap nearly 100 miles offshore of Indonesia just spent nearly 50 days at sea, alone and adrift, and lived to tell his story.
His name? Aldi Novel Adilang. His job was to keep lights aflame on the fish trap which would draw fish that fishermen would catch and sell. A vicious storm back in July ripped Adilang’s floating workspace, a tiny hut on a rectangular base from its moorings, and sent him drifting far, far out to sea.
Fortunately, Adilang’s trap was equipped with a small living space and food, since he slept there anyway. But, just days into his unplanned voyage through the Indian Ocean, he’d run out of food and water. He was able to catch fish and cook them, for a time, with his meager supply of gas.
When the gas ran out, he began stripping unnecessary parts of his hut to burn for fuel.
When the water ran out he started wringing the wetness from his clothes and drinking that—he filtered saltwater through the fabric too. It worked well enough to keep him alive for weeks.
To try to keep his wits, Adilang read his bible, over and over again. It calmed his mind, steeled his nerves, gave him something to think about. Gave him hope.
Ships repeatedly passed in the distance, but with no way to communicate to them, Adilang had to sit, frustrated and forlorn, waving a filthy rag to attract attention, shouting impotently into the sea air.
"Every time he saw a large ship, he said, he was hopeful, but more than 10 ships had sailed past him, none of them stopped or saw Aldi," reported an Indonesian diplomat.
Adilang even contemplated suicide by plunging himself to the bottom of the sea.
Finally, on August 31, a large ship called the Arpeggio steamed nearby. Adilang had a small short-range radio on board and frantically tried to dial it to a frequency that would draw the big ship’s attention. It worked. The captain of the Arpeggio turned his ship around and noticed Adilang’s pitiful hut, bobbing in the swells.
Though, of course, rescue would not be easy.
Big, lurching swell meant the two craft couldn’t get as close as they’d like. A rope was tossed to Adilang, but in the shifting seas, and his weakened state, he struggled to collect the lifeline, let alone use his meager grip strength to draw himself alongside the rescuing craft. Amazingly, the crew of the larger ship was able to reach down, grab Adilang’s hand, and save the young man’s life.
After nearly two months at sea, Adilang was forced to endure a bit more sea time after being brought to Japan for medical treatment. He was malnourished, dehydrated and had to be held in quarantine at a port for a few days. On September 8, the Indonesian consulate in Japan flew a rested and recovered, at least physically, Adilang home to Manado, Indonesia.
Through his ordeal, Adilang had been pushed by winds and currents some 1,676 miles from the Indonesian coast, clear past the Philippines, nearly to Guam. All on a small rectangular wooden platform never intended for open ocean sailing.
Adilang’s hut had actually broken free several times in the three years he’s worked as a lamp keeper, but never drifted very far before his employer was able to corral the wayward vessel. He told the AP he no longer wants to work on the hut. Who can blame him?