'HELP' Message on Remote Island Saves Sailors Stranded for a Week, Coast Guard Says

crew of a Hawaii-based HC-130J Hercules spots 'HELP' sign
The crew of a Hawaii-based HC-130J Hercules aircraft makes contact with three mariners stranded on Pikelot Atoll, Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia, after dropping them a radio on April 8, 2024. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

More than a week after three men didn’t return from a boating trip in Micronesia, a “help” message written in the sand of a remote island led rescuers to their location, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

On April 6, a woman called a rescue group in Guam to report her three uncles missing, the Coast Guard said in an April 9 news release.

They had traveled out to Pikelot Atoll, a small ring-like island southeast of Guam and north of Papua New Guinea, but after a week they had failed to make it home, officials said.

    The search began, including an airplane operated by a Navy team stationed in Japan, and spanned more than 78,000 square nautical miles, according to the release.

    The next day, the team flew over the atoll, and saw something written on the sand.

    “In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, 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,” Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator, said in the release.

    The three men were experienced boaters, the Coast Guard said, but had sustained damage to their 20-foot open skiff boat and had been left stranded on the remote island.

    Once their message was found, a radio was dropped down to the sailors to communicate, officials said.

    The three men, all in their 40s, were in good health and had food and water, but they were unable to get themselves from the atoll, according to the Coast Guard.

    The sailors were dropped survival packages to hold them over until a ship could be rerouted to their location.

    On April 9, the U.S. Coast Guard ship Oliver Henry arrived at the island and the boaters were successfully rescued.

    “The U.S. Coast Guard strongly recommends that all mariners equip their vessels with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) to enhance safety on the water. A growing number of maritime communities offer loaner programs for these devices, making it easier for everyone to access this critical safety tool,” the Coast Guard said in the release.

    Guam is a U.S. island territory in the western Pacific.

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