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Stranded sailors saved by spelling out ‘help’ with palm leaves

Three men spent several days on a deserted island after their boat was damaged

Three stranded sailors were rescued from a deserted island in the Pacific on Tuesday, ending a week-long ordeal after their boat was damaged, the US Coast Guard said in a statement this week.

Rescuers were able to locate the castaways thanks to a ‘help’ sign that they spelled out with palm leaves on the beach.

The men, who were all described as experienced sailors, set sail in a 20-foot (6-meter) open skiff from Polowat Atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia on March 31, according to Coast Guard data.

On April 6, a female relative alerted the Joint Rescue Sub-Center in Guam that her three uncles had not returned home. A large-scale search effort was launched and a US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Kadena Air Base in Japan was sent to the search area, which initially spanned over 78,000 square nautical miles, according to the US Coast Guard.

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On April 7, the plane located the castaways and confirmed their presence on the deserted Pikelot Atoll, which is around 100 nautical miles northwest of Polowat. The ‘help’ sign played a key role in the rescue efforts, the Coast Guard said.

“The mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery. This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator, said.

Several aircraft dropped survival packages and a radio transmitter to the men. The USCGC Oliver Henry was rerouted to pick up the three men and took them aboard on April 9.

The Federated States of Micronesia includes around 600 islands scattered over a vast area of the western Pacific. The uninhabited Pikelot Atoll is often visited by hunters and fishermen. 

In 2020, the Australian Defense Force picked up three Micronesian sailors there after they spelled out ‘SOS’ on the beach.


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