Castaways rescued after writing ‘help’ on beach

Castaways rescued from deserted island after writing 'help' on beach e

Three mariners stranded on a deserted remote Pacific island for over a week have been rescued, after using palm fronds to write the word ‘help’ on the beach.

The US Coast Guard confirms the three fishermen were rescued on 9 April 2024, following a coordinated rescue effort from Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and the US Navy. They had been stranded on Pikelot Atoll, Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

The men, all in their 40s, reportedly embarked on their voyage from Polowat Atoll on Easter Sunday in a small 20-foot open skiff equipped with an outboard motor. The coast guard says the men had ‘experience in navigating these waters.’

But their motor was damaged and stopped working, leaving the castaways stuck for over a week on the small uninhabited island. The men survived on coconuts and water from a well.

On 6 April, Joint Rescue Sub-Center (JRSC) Guam received a distress call from a relative who reported her three uncles had not returned from Pikelot Atoll, approximately 100 nautical miles northwest of Polowat Atoll.

Castaways rescued from deserted island after writing 'help' on beach a

After receiving the distress call, JRSC Guam watchstanders immediately began coordinating a search and rescue operation. A US Navy P-8 aircraft crew dispatched from an air base in Japan and the diverted USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) headed to the search area, which stretched over 78,000 square nautical miles.

The breakthrough came when the Navy aircraft saw the mens’ message on 7 April.

“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelt out ‘help’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” says Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator on the day they were located. “This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location.”

The aircraft crew deployed survival packages and a radio to sustain the trio and maintain communication until further assistance could arrive. USCGC Oliver Henry was rerouted to Pikelot Atoll to conduct the rescue operation.

The men were duly returned, with their outboard, 100 nautical miles to Polowat Atoll, Chuuk State.

The US Coast Guard ‘strongly recommends’ that all mariners equip their vessels with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) to enhance safety on the water. In a statement, the coast guard adds: ‘A growing number of maritime communities offer loaner programs for these devices, making it easier for everyone to access this critical safety tool.’

Remarkably, this is not the first time that castaways stranded on Pikelot have been rescued after writing a sign on the beach.

In 2020, three men were rescued from the islet after a giant SOS sign they wrote in the sand was spotted, allowing coast guard and Australian authorities to find them on the island.

SOS sign on beach.
Three men were also rescued from Pikelot in 2020.

Images courtesy of US Coast Guard Forces Micronesia.

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