A 30-year-old North Macedonian man is alive today, thanks to a small soccer ball that children 80 miles away had lost ten days earlier.
Some time earlier this month, a man known only as "Ivan" was vacationing with friends near Kassandra, Greece. They were enjoying time on the beach when a strong current swept three people, including Ivan, far out to sea. Ivan's friends alerted authorities, who immediately sprang into action, but despite a thorough search, no one could find him.
Meanwhile, Ivan found himself lost at sea with little hope of rescue when a small half-deflated kids soccer ball drifted right into his path. He grabbed hold of the ball and clung to it for dear life. Eighteen hours later, a helicopter from the Greek Air Force finally spotted him.
Ivan was taken to the hospital, where his father and even the local mayor were able to visit with him.
"I had constant information on the course of the rescue and am very happy about the smooth ending of the young man's adventure," Anastasia Chalkia, the mayor of Kassandra, wrote in a translated Facebook post. "The young man found a ball that saved his life as he helped him when he got tired."
Chalkia thanked the rescue team and emergency medical professionals who assisted Ivan and held the heroic soccer ball as she posed for pictures with Ivan and his father at the hospital.
When the story hit the news, the mother of the two boys who had lost the soccer ball ten days prior recognized the toy on TV and came forward to identify it. Evgatis Beach on the Greek island of Lemnos, where her sons Tryphon and Thanos had lost the ball, is approximately 80 miles away from the location where Ivan was rescued.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story may not have such a happy ending. Ivan's friend, Martin Jovanovski, still remains missing, and members of the Greek coast guard and local volunteers have searched almost continuously to find him. Martin's brother, Goran, is expected to arrive in the area on Friday to help with the rescue effort as well.
Goran told reporters that he “will move the earth and heaven” to find his brother and “will mobilize everything necessary.”
Mayor Chalkia also shared a message about Martin in her post: "Investigations continue to locate a third missing person. I hope the third boy will be found alive very quickly."