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SOS message in the sand leads search crew to missing sailors stranded on Pacific island

The men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days before they were found on Pikelot Island in Micronesia by Australian and US military aircraft on Sunday.

SOS message in the sand leads search crew to missing sailors stranded on Pacific island
Image Source: Twitter/Australian Department of Defence

Three mariners stranded on a tiny, remote island in the western Pacific were rescued after a giant SOS sign they drew in the sand was spotted from the air. The men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days before they were found on Pikelot Island in Micronesia by Australian and US military aircraft on Sunday, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) said. According to CNN, the sailors had set out in a 23-foot boat on July 30 to make a 26-mile journey from Pulawat to Pulap atolls in the Federated States of Micronesia but landed on the uninhabited island when they went off course and ran out of fuel.

 



 

When the men didn't arrive at their intended destination, a search was requested through the US Coast Guard's Joint Rescue Sub Center in Guam on the afternoon of August 1. The Andersen Air Force Base on Guam revealed in a Facebook post on its page that a US Air Force KC-135 tanker operating out of the base was the first to spot the sailors after searching for almost three hours. "Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam received notification of an overdue skiff last seen in the vicinity of Chuuk and requested our assistance," US Air Force Maj. Shaun McRoberts, 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron assistant director of operations said in the post. "Once notified, we began immediately working a plan to launch crews to locate the missing vessel."

 

 



 

"We were toward the end of our search pattern," the KC-135 pilot, Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen revealed. "We turned to avoid some rain showers and that's when we looked down and saw an island, so we decide to check it out and that's when we saw SOS and a boat right next to it on the beach. From there we called in the Australian Navy because they had two helicopters nearby that could assist and land on the island."

 



 

A helicopter crew from HMAS Canberra delivered supplies to the stranded mariners while a US Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii airdropped a radio and message block informing them the FSS Independence was en-route to rescue and return them home, the post stated. Canberra's Commanding Officer Captain Terry Morrison praised the ship's crew's response to the operation. "The ship's company responded to the call and had the ship quickly prepared to support the search and rescue," he said.

 



 

"In particular, our embarked MRH90 helicopter from No. 808 Squadron and the four armed reconnaissance helicopters from 1st Aviation Regiment were instrumental in the morning search that helped locate the men and deliver supplies and confirm their welfare. I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world," he added.

 



 

Meanwhile, a US Coast Guard statement revealed that the rescuers and the mariners maintained a distance from each other due to the pandemic. "After discussions between the responding partners it was decided the safest course of action for both the response agencies' crews and the mariners was to limit exposure to one another due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement revealed.

 



 

"Partnerships," said US Coast Guard Captain Christopher Chase, Coast Guard Sector Guam, commander. "This is what made this search and rescue case successful. Through coordination with multiple response organizations, we were able to save three members of our community and bring them back home to their families." The FSS Independence arrived on scene at 12 am on August 3 (HST), launched a small boat crew, and rescued the mariners.

 



 

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