‘Pivotal’ message saved three men stranded on tiny Pacific island

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Three stranded men have been rescued from a tiny Pacific island after crafting a giant “HELP” sign with palm leaves.

The men, all experienced mariners in their 40s, had been stuck for over a week on Pikelot Atoll – an uninhabited island which is part of the Federated States of Micronesia and 670km southeast of Guam – before they were discovered on Sunday.

The trio had left on a sailing trip from their home on Polowat Atoll to Pikelot Atoll, about 190km away, on Easter Sunday in a 20-foot open skiff with an outboard motor.

However, six days later, their niece reported her uncles had not returned home, prompting a search and rescue mission by the U.S. Coast Guard and navy.

Rescuers were initially tasked with searching an area that spanned more than 78,000 square nautical miles.

However, a breakthrough came when the US navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft crew spotted the giant “HELP” sign from the air on Sunday, eight days after the men went missing.

US Coast Guard Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia said the message was “a crucial factor in their discovery”.

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

The following day, the aircraft flew over the area and dropped a radio to establish communication with the men, who confirmed they were in good health and had access to food and water.

Their boat, however, was damaged with the on-board engine completely broken.

The men were rescued the next day on Tuesday, April 9 and transported home.

“Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterises our relationship,” said Lieutenant Commander Christine Igisomar, the search and rescue mission co-ordinator on the day they were rescued.

It’s not the first time a group of men have been rescued from the island.

In 2020, three stranded Micronesian mariners were saved after writing a giant “SOS” sign in the sand which was spotted by searches on Australian and U.S. aircraft.

At the time, the men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days before they were found.