Castaways rescued by Coast Guard after writing ‘HELP’ with palm leaves on remote Pacific island

Three castaways who were stranded on a remote Pacific islet for days were rescued this week after spelling out “HELP” with palm fronds on the beach, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The trio of men, all mariners in their 40s, ventured out to go fishing near Pikelot atoll in a 20-foot open skiff with an outboard motor, the Coast Guard said, noting that the three had “experience in navigating these waters.”

But their motor was damaged and stopped working, leaving the castaways stuck for more than a week on the tiny uninhabited island, surviving on coconuts and water from a well.

The search began after a relative called rescue officials in Guam last weekend and said the three had not returned from Pikelot, which is part of the Federated States of Micronesia, a Pacific nation made up of many islands scattered in the ocean between the Philippines and Hawaii.

A U.S. Navy aircraft dispatched from an air base in Japan spotted the help sign drawn with palm fronds on the beach, narrowing an initial search area that stretched over 78,000 square nautical miles, according to a Coast Guard statement. It did not release the names of the mariners.

That aircraft dropped “survival packages” for the trio, and a crew from an air station in Hawaii then dropped a radio to contact the men, who “were in good health” with some access to food and water and had recovered their skiff, the Coast Guard said.

“The skiff was damaged when they approached the island due to the swells surging on the island and surrounding shoal,” Chief Warrant Officer Sara Muir of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia, Sector Guam, told the Stars and Stripes newspaper Thursday. The battery on their radio had died, she said.


They ate meat from coconuts, and “water was available through a well on the island,” Muir told the paper. She said they had enough food to survive, “but not for much longer.”

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry was diverted for the rescue mission, which ended Tuesday as the ship returned the three men to Polowat, another atoll about 100 miles away.

Their “act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location” Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator on the day the three were located, said in the statement.

It was not the first time that writing a sign on the beach worked for castaways stranded on Pikelot.

In 2020, three other men who went missing in the Micronesia archipelago reportedly washed up there after they drifted off course and their boat ran out of fuel.

Those three wrote a big “SOS” sign in the sand that was also spotted from the sky, allowing Coast Guard and Australian authorities to find them on the island.