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Mariners Rescued From Uninhabited Island After Writing “HELP” With Palm Fronds

We’ve seen it movies — mariners stranded on an uninhabited island signaling their plight and being rescued. This week the scenario was real when three mariners were rescued from a tiny, uninhabited island in Micronesia after laying out palm fronds on the beach to spell “HELP.” On April 6, a relative notified the USCG that her three uncles had failed to return home after departing Poluwat Atoll on March 31 aboard a 20-ft outboard-powered open skiff.

The experienced mariners, all in their 40s, had been heading for Pikelot Atoll, approximately 100 miles northwest of Poluwat. They were in familiar waters but had sustained damage to their skiff and outboard, becoming stranded on the small island covering less than 2000 square feet. On April 7, a US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft identified the stranded men and confirmed their presence and condition. The aircraft crew successfully dropped survival packages to sustain the mariners until further assistance could arrive.

Palm leaves spell HELP on beach
The crew of a Hawaii-based HC-130J Hercules aircraft made contact with three mariners stranded on Pikelot Atoll, Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia. After dropping them a radio on April 8, the air crew informed the men that USCGC Oliver Henry would arrive on April 9 to transport them home to Poluwat Atoll.
© 2024 U.S. Coast Guard

On April 8, a US Coast Guard Hercules aircraft from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii, flew over the area and dropped a radio to establish communication. The mariners confirmed they were in good health, had access to food and water, and had recovered their damaged skiff. The next morning, they were picked up by the USCG’s 154-ft Fast Response Cutter Oliver Henry. The men and their equipment were taken aboard and returned to their home port, Poluwat Atoll.

The rescue operation was a coordination of US Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and the US Navy. USCG Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator on the day the mariners were located, said spelling out “HELP” on the beach with the palm fronds was a crucial factor in their discovery. “This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” Lt. Garcia said. “This successful operation underscores the effective coordination and partnership between the US Coast Guard, the US Navy, and regional partners. We extend our gratitude to everyone involved.”

The USCG concluded their report with the recommendation 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.”

We wrote about a similar rescue in 2020 when mariners were rescued from an uninhabited beach in Micronesia after writing SOS on the beach. You can read that story here: SOS

1 Comment

  1. Bill Huber 1 month ago

    Cue 4/13/1982 Far Side Comic, by Gary Larson.

    “Wait! Wait! Cancel that. …
    I guess it says ‘helf’.”

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