3 Rescued From Remote Atoll Thanks to Their 'Ingenuity'

Rescue came after US Navy aircraft spotted 'HELP' message spelled out in palm leaves on the beach
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2024 10:28 AM CDT
'Ingenuity' Saves 3 Stranded for a Week on Remote Atoll
A plea for help, written in palm leaves, spotted Sunday on the remote island of Pikelot, part of Micronesia.   (US Coast Guard)

In a search area covering more than 100,000 square miles in the remote Pacific, the 31-acre atoll was a needle in a haystack. Still, authorities discovered the three men stranded for days on the uninhabited island thanks to their ingenuity—spelled out in palm fronds. The men in their 40s had set out from Poluwat Atoll, a remote island in Micronesia, on March 31, intending to fish near the island of Pikelot, 118 miles to the southeast, but swells damaged the outboard motor on their 20-foot open skiff, CNN reports. They landed on Pikelot but found their radio had run out of battery. They spent a week eating coconuts and drinking water from a small well before they were discovered, the US Coast Guard said.

On April 6, a relative alerted rescue officials in Guam, who mapped out an an initial search area of 78,000 square nautical miles. That was narrowed down considerably on Sunday when a US Navy aircraft flying out of Japan spotted the word "HELP" on Pikelot's beach, spelled out with palm leaves. The men's "act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location," said search-and-rescue mission coordinator Lt. Chelsea Garcia. Officials were able to drop a radio and "survival packages" and confirm the men were in good health, the Coast Guard said, per the Washington Post. They had enough food to survive "but not for much longer," an official tells Stars and Stripes.

The Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry finally picked up the men on Tuesday and returned them to Polowat, the Post reports. CNN notes it was both a rescue and a family reunion as one of the first rescuers to set food on Pikelot was Petty Officer 2nd Class Eugene Halishlius, who is from Micronesia and discovered he's a third cousin to one of the castaways and a fourth cousin to the others. The case is also something of a repeat: In August 2020, three sailors who'd been stuck on Pikelot for days were discovered after using palm fronds to spell out "SOS," per NPR. The US Coast Guard took part in that search and rescue effort, as well as another on Micronesia's East Fayu Island in 2016. (More rescue stories.)

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