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3 men stranded on a Pacific island were rescued by spelling 'help' with palm leaves

The 'HELP' sign made from palm fronds is shown on the Pikelot atoll.
U.S. Coast Guard
The 'HELP' sign made from palm fronds is shown on the Pikelot atoll.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy were able to successfully rescue three sailors who were stranded on a small Pacific island for over a week, after they spelled "help" in the sand with palm tree leaves.

The three men, all in their 40s, left Easter Sunday on a 20-foot skiff from Polowat to Pikelot (both places are two small Pacific islands that make up the Micronesia archipelago), the Coast Guard said.

Six days later, on Saturday, a woman called the Coast Guard to report that her uncles had not returned from Pikelot, which is about 100 nautical miles from where they began. A Coast Guard rescue center in Guam began a search, but had challenges due to weather and the availability of resources. A Navy aircraft stationed in Japan and the Coast Guard ship, Oliver Henry, then joined the mission.

Crews searched an area of more than 78,000 square nautical miles, and the Navy aircraft spotted the trio's palm leaf message the following day.

"This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location," said Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator.

Aircraft crews deployed a radio and other supplies down, and the men said they had food and water, were in good health and had their boat, though it was damaged. On Tuesday, the men were returned to Polowat.

"Whether we're out there protecting valuable resources or saving lives, we're not just visitors – we're members of this vibrant maritime community that connects all these islands," said Lt. Ray Cerrato, the commanding officer of USCGC Oliver Henry. "This recent operation near Pikelot Atoll hits home the kind of difference we can make. It's about more than just performing a duty; it's about the real human connections we forge and the lives we touch."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]

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