Castaways rescued from deserted Pacific island after writing ‘ingenious HELP message' in sand

12 April 2024, 09:36 | Updated: 12 April 2024, 09:44

The 'help' sign was spotted by Navy aircraft.
The 'help' sign was spotted by Navy aircraft. Picture: US COAST GUARD

By Jenny Medlicott

Three castaways were rescued from a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean after the clever-thinking trio wrote a ‘help’ message made out of palm leaves.

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The three mariners were rescued from the remote island of Pikelot Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, a 450m island part of Micronesia some 860 miles away from Papa New Guinea.

All three of the men who went missing were experienced sailors in their 40s and had taken off from Polowat Atoll to the island on Easter Sunday on a fishing trip.

But when the niece of the three men failed to hear from her uncles for six days, she reported them missing to the Coast Guard in Guam.

The US Coast Guard and Navy scoured more than 78,000 square nautical miles in search of the men.

But it was the trio’s clever-thinking decision to put together the help sign out of palm leaves that played a pivotal role in their discovery.

Within a day of searching, the Navy's P-8 Poseidon aircraft spotted the help sign, alongside two makeshift shelters they had made near the sign.

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Lt. Chelsea Garcia said: “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.

“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location.”

Eight days following their disappearance, the men were found on the island with their remaining supplies dwindling.

The men said that the shoals and swells surrounding the island had damaged their ship and caused the engine to go bust.

The conditions surrounding the island made it a tricky rescue, but a Coast Guard cutter ship eventually flew in from Hawaii and returned the three men home on Tuesday.

Garcia said: “This successful operation underscores the effective coordination and partnership between the US Coast Guard, the US Navy, and regional partners. We extend our gratitude to everyone involved.”

Lt. Cmdr. Christine Igisomar, the search and rescue mission coordinator said: “Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterizes our relationship, making a profound impact on the lives of individuals and the resilience of communities across the (Federated States of Micronesia).”