Three fishermen rescued by US Coast Guard and Navy after spelling out an SOS on deserted island beach

Three men who had gone missing after leaving from Polowat Atoll on March 30 to go fishing near Pikelot Atoll, a 31-acre deserted island roughly 100 miles from where they left in a 20-foot skiff with an outboard motor, were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday, after a U.S. Navy plane saw their plea for “help,” which was spelled out on the sand using palm tree fronds. The Coast Guard said in a press release that the three men, all in their 40s, were reportedly experienced in navigating the waters, though when they went missing, family members became concerned.

Joint Rescue Sub-Center (JRSC) Guam started coordinating search and rescue operations after the trio was reported missing. The efforts presented several challenges because of aircraft availability and weather conditions, the Coast Guard said, but eventually a Navy P-8 aircraft joined the search out of Kadena Air Force Base in Japan. Also joining the search was the USCG Cutter Oliver Henry. The search area spanned over 78,000 square nautical miles.

On April 7, a P-8 Poseidon aircraft located the mariners on Pikelot Atoll and were able to confirm their condition. “In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery. This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” Lt. Chelsea Garcia said. “This successful operation underscores the effective coordination and partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, and regional partners.” The crew of the aircraft deployed survival packages to the fishermen, while the Oliver Henry was rerouted to the atoll to rescue the men.

Another Coast Guard asset, an HC-130J Hercules aircraft based out of Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii, flow over the atoll and located the fishermen, dropping a radio to establish communication, the Coast Guard said. After establishing communication, the men said they were in good health, had access to food and water, and recovered the boat, which had sustained damage.

Chief Warrant Officer Sara Muir of Coast Guard Forces Micronesia, Sector Guam told Stars and Stripes the men were slightly dehydrated, though they were able to survive on water from a well on the island. She also said the men ate meat from coconuts until receiving survival packages. Once the Oliver Henry arrived, they were able to evacuate from the Pikelot Atoll on Tuesday and return them to Polowat Atoll.

The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to Digital’s request for comment on the matter. “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,” Lt. Ray Cerrato, commanding officer of the cutter Oliver Henry said. “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.”