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‘SOS’ Message in Sand Saves Three Men Stranded on Tiny Pacific Island

Margaret Tionquiao

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  • Three mariners were rescued from a tiny uninhabited island in the Pacific by an SOS message written in the sand.
  • The men were set to go to Pulap before they went off-course and ended up landing on the island of Pikelot after running out of fuel.
  • A pilot from one of the search-and-rescue teams saw the island and spotted the trio’s request for help.
  • The rescue was a success because of the ‘partnership’ between the U.S. Coast Guard and Australian Navy troops in the area.

An “SOS” message written on the sand in the shores of a tiny uninhabited island in the Federated States of Micronesia led to the rescue of three men who were later announced to be missing guardsmen from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard (ANG) and the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

U.S. and Australian authorities said that the mariners were set to travel from Pulawat to Pulap on a 7-meter white and blue skiff boat before they went off-course and landed on Pikelot Island. The three were forced to land 190 kilometers from their supposed destination when they ran out of fuel.

A press release from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam announced that a returning search team found the trio’s SOS message written in the sand.

U.S. Air Force Major Shaun McRoberts, assistant director of operations at the 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron, said that they were working a plan to launch a search when they received notifications that the men failed to show up. The search request was made through the US Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Sub Center in Guam, and they enlisted help from units in the region.

The SOS message written on the beach of the island of Pikelot.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, the KC-135 pilot, said that they were returning to avoid rain shower when they saw the island.

He said:

“We decided 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.”

One of the helicopters was the Australian amphibious assault ship HMAS Canberra, and it landed on the beach to drop off food and water and confirm the identities and injuries of the stranded trio. A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 from Hawaii also dropped a radio so the mariners could communicate with the Micronesian patrol vessel and maintain distance to avoid any potential risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

US Coast Guard Capt. Christopher Chase, commander of US Coast Guard Sector Guam, said that the search-and-rescue for the mariners were successful because of partnerships. “Through coordination with multiple response organizations, we were able to save three members of our community and bring them back home to their families,” he added.

Capt. Terry Morrison, commander of the Canberra, was proud and happy that his crew “fulfilled our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world.”

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