Knoxville/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on April 12, 2024
Stranded Sailors Spell "HELP" with Palm Leaves, Prompting Rescue from Pikelot Atoll by U.S. Coast GuardSource: U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia

In a dramatic turn of events, three sailors lost at sea for over a week, were rescued after cleverly spelling out "HELP" using palm leaves on the sandy shores of Pikelot Atoll, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. These men, all in their 40s, were caught in a desperate situation when their 20-foot skiff failed, leaving them ashore on the uninhabited islet within the sprawling archipelago of the Federated States of Micronesia.

The rescue effort kicked off on April 6 following a call to the Joint Rescue Sub-Center in Guam by a relative who reported that the fishermen had failed to return from their excursion, according to ABC News. Initially, an expansive search area of 78,000 square miles was established. The breakthrough came when an eagle-eyed U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon piloted from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan spotted their handcrafted sign from the sky, drastically narrowing the search perimeter.

Following the discovery, the stranded sailors received survival packages from the aircraft, while a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station from Hawaii dropped a much-needed radio, establishing communication. The men reported that they were in good health, thirsty but okay, and had eked out sustenance from coconuts and a found water source, as per The Washington Post. Their boat had met its match against the atoll's brutal coral reef, which left a gaping hole causing it to take on water and eventually fail.

The rescue operation culminated on April 9, when a Coast Guard ship, the Oliver Henry, rerouted to Pikelot Atoll and recovered the mariners along with their equipment. The sailors were transported back to their home island of Polowat Atoll, over 100 miles distant. Their resourcefulness in creating a visible distress signal was hailed by Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator, who stated, "This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location," as mentioned in a Coast Guard statement obtained by WBIR.

This isn't the first such incident to occur in the region; in August 2020, another group of castaways who became stranded on Pikelot Atoll were rescued after similarly crafting a distress message—this time an "SOS"—spotted by authorities from the skies. These recurrences serve as a testament to both the perils of the sea and the enduring will of those who navigate its vast expanse.