Three castaways rescued after a week on Pacific islet

Three stranded mariners shaped palm fronds into a message for help spotted by a US navy aircraft.

Three stranded mariners shaped palm fronds into a message for help spotted by a US navy aircraft. Photo: US Coast Guard

Three castaways stranded for a week on a remote desert island in the western Pacific Ocean have been rescued after using palm fronds to spell out the word “HELP” on a sandy beach.

The men, all in their 40s, were spotted on Tuesday on Pikelot Island, an uninhabited 13-hectare islet covered by palm trees about 670 kilometres south-east of Guam, the US Coast Guard said on Thursday (US time).

Their identities and citizenship were not released. But all were said to be in good health.

It is the second time in just four years that a group of stranded sailors has been rescued from Pikelot Island.

The trio’s saga began on Easter Sunday when they set off on a voyage in an open skiff equipped with an outboard motor from Polowat atoll, 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 US navy began a search and rescue operation.

The initial search area spanned more than 78,000 square nautical miles (nearly 270,000 square kilometres).

A day later, the US 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,” US Coast Guard Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia said.

pikelot island rescue

The crew of USCGC Oliver Henry eventually plucked the trio from the remote island. Photo: US Coast Guard

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 “HELP” sign.

The New York Times reported it wasn’t the first time castaways have been rescued from the island.

In 2020, three missing sailors were found after they wrote “SOS” in the sand.

In that instance, an Australian Navy vessel, the HMAS Canberra, headed to the sailors’ aid and a helicopter landed on the beach to bring food and water.

-with AAP

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