Three Men Rescued from Pacific Island Thanks to Palm Leaf SOS Message

( – Three sailors stranded for over a week on a tiny island in the Pacific were finally rescued by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard after the sailors used palm tree leaves to spell out the word “HELP” in the sand.

On Tuesday, April 9th, the U.S. Coast Guard published a press release detailing the rescue of three men trapped on an island after they signaled for help. The sailors, all of whom are in their 40s, set off in a small boat on Easter Sunday to travel from the small Pacific island of Polowat, part of the State of Chuuk, to an uninhabited island called Pikelot, which is part of the State of Yap. Chuuk and Yap are part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

On Saturday, April 6th, a woman contacted the Coast Guard and reported that her uncles had taken their boat to Pikelot six days prior but never returned. Pikelot has no full-time inhabitants and is roughly 100 nautical miles from Polowat, which has a population of just over 1,000.

A search began in Guam from a Coast Guard rescue center, although they immediately faced complications from the weather and limited resources. The Navy soon deployed a P-8 aircraft from a base in Japan to join in the search, and the Coast Guard also sent a ship, the USCGC Oliver Henry, to help with the mission. The search covered about 78,000 square nautical miles before a breakthrough was made by the Navy aircraft, which spotted the message and the stranded mariners on Sunday, April 7th, on Pikelot.

The three men used palm tree leaves to spell out “HELP” along the shores, which were large enough to be seen from the sky. Lt. Chelsea Garcia called the feat “a remarkable testament” to the mariners’ “will to be found.” She said the message was “a crucial factor” in the sailors’ discovery by “guiding rescue efforts” to their exact location. Garcia also credited the operation’s success to “the effective coordination and partnership” between the Coast Guard, Navy, and other “regional partners.”

Supplies were delivered to the men, who already had food and water, but their boat was damaged. They were brought back to Polowat on Tuesday, April 9th.

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