Three castaways rescued after a week on remote Pacific islet, US Coast Guard says

By Thomson Reuters Apr 11, 2024 | 11:55 AM

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Three castaways stranded for a week on a desert island in the western Pacific Ocean were rescued after a U.S. Navy aircraft searching for them spotted palm fronds that the trio used to spell out the word “H-E-L-P” on a sandy beach.

The men, all in their 40s, were found in good health on Tuesday on Pikelot Island, an uninhabited, 32-acre islet covered by palm trees about 415 miles (667 km) southeast of Guam, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement on Thursday. Their identities and nationalities were not released.

The trio’s saga began on Easter Sunday when they embarked on a voyage in a 20-foot open skiff equipped with an outboard motor from Polowat atoll, some 100 nautical miles east of where the men were found, the Coast Guard said.

Six days later, after the experienced mariners failed to return, their niece alerted authorities and the Coast Guard and Navy began a search and rescue operation. The initial search area spanned more than 78,000 square nautical miles.

A day later, the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft spotted the makeshift “HELP” sign written out with palm leaves and began the rescue effort, the Coast Guard said.

“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia said in the statement.

While stranded on the island, which is part of the Federated States of Micronesia, the men had access to food and water. They also recovered their damaged skiff.

A Coast Guard photograph showed two small covered shelters near the “H-E-L-P” sign.

The New York Times reported this was not the first time castaways have been rescued from the island. About four years ago, three missing sailors were found after they wrote “SOS” in the sand.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Aurora Ellis)