Three castaway men were rescued from a tiny island in the South Pacific on Sunday after a passing aircraft spotted their “SOS” message written on the beach.
The sailors had been missing in Micronesia for three days when Australian and US authorities found them on the shore of Pikelot Island: an uninhabited coral islet located about 670 kilometres south of Guam, and 190 kilometres west of where the men last set off. They were reportedly making a 23-nautical mile journey between Pulawat and Pulap atolls when their seven-metre vessel drifted off course and ran out of fuel.
Authorities in Guam reported the men missing on August 1, prompting a search and rescue mission involving reconnaissance helicopters and Navy ships. It was on August 2 that the castaways were eventually found marooned on Pikelot, having used foliage and random debris to construct a large “SOS” message that was visible from the air. A small makeshift shelter had also been constructed on the beach nearby.
An army reconnaissance helicopter landed on the beach, delivered food and water, and confirmed the identities of the men, who were all confirmed to be in “good condition”. A Micronesian patrol vessel was deployed shortly thereafter to pick them up.
Australian Navy vessel HMAS Canberra, which was sailing home after naval exercises in the South China Sea, assisted in the rescue operation. The vessel's commanding officer, Captain Terry Morrison, commended those involved in locating the men.
“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 … and the four armed reconnaissance helicopters … 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 fulfil our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world.”
This isn’t the first time the faithful “SOS” technique has been used by castaways in the Federated States of Micronesia, which consists of some 607 small islands scattered across a huge expanse of ocean. In 2016 a couple were rescued from the uninhabited island of East Fayu after scrawling the message in the sand and using a flashlight to attract attention. In that case the couple had been shipwrecked for a week, and were only located after authorities used 15 vessels and two aircraft to cover nearly 43,000 square kilometres of ocean.