18-year-old Aldi Novel Adilang was dutifully going about his day aboard a tiny wood fish hut, otherwise known as a rompong, a little less than 80 miles from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Every night it was his job to light the lamps attached to the hut that would then attract fish and about once a week somebody from his company would bring food, water, and fuel while they collected the fish.
On July 14, the rompong was hit by heavy winds, its moorings snapped, and the hut started drifting out to sea. At that time he had only enough supplies to last him a few days. Somehow, Aldi managed to survive 49 days, drifting more than 1,600 miles from home just outside of Guam before a ship called the Arpeggio rescued him.
The Arpeggio wasn’t the first ship to pass Aldi during his seven weeks adrift that started in the Indian Ocean and ended in the Pacific. More than 10 ships had passed the tiny hut but none of them ever saw him and made a rescue attempt. And even when the Arpeggio got Aldi’s call for help sent through the small walkie-talkie he had on board, it took four passes and a desperate jump on Aldi’s part to catch the lifeline that eventually brought him to safety. He’d been surviving by catching fish and cooking it using wood stripped off his hut. When he needed water he would use his own t-shirt as a filter, hoping that would separate enough of the salt to keep him hydrated. And when he thought about giving up and jumping into the ocean, Aldi remembered what his parents had taught him about never giving up and he read his Bible.
“Aldi said he had been scared and often cried while adrift,” Fajar Firdaus, a diplomat at the consulate in Osaka, told the Post. “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.”
The ship that eventually rescued Aldi was headed for Japan. So once onboard that’s exactly where they eventually took him. He’d made it a remarkable 7 weeks adrift and then spent another week aboard the Arpeggio before making it to the Japanese port of Tokuyama on September 6. And even then he had to spend just one more night on the ship in quarantine as a precaution.
Officials in Japan started rushing through travel arrangements that would allow him to go back home. He traveled from Osaka to Tokyo and then flew to Jakarta before finally making it back home to his family on September 9th, almost a full two months from the day his fish trap started drifting out to sea.
“He is now back at home and he will be 19 on September 30 – we’re going to celebrate,” his mother said.
You have to imagine Aldi’s 19th birthday will be the biggest party his family has ever thrown. And for good reason.