When all else fails, use Morse code

Published on August 4th, 2020

Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach.

The trio had reportedly embarked on a 26-mile trip between two atolls on a 23-foot skiff but ran out of fuel and ended up 103nm west of their intended destination.

After landing on the island of Pikelot, which is only 492 yards long, the men wrote SOS in large letters on the sand. SOS is an internationally recognized Morse code distress signal, and while not an abbreviation for anything, in popular usage it is associated with phrases such as “Save Our Souls” and “Save Our Ship”.

Missing since July 29, their rescue involved the US Coast Guard and Air Force, Royal Australian Navy, and Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). After being notified of their absence on July 31, it was at 3:09 pm on August 1 when one of the Air Force KC-135 crews was completing the final leg of their search pattern for the day when they located the stranded mariners.

“We were toward the end of our search pattern, we turned to avoid some rain showers and that’s when we looked down and saw an island, so we decide to check it out and that’s when we saw S.O.S and a boat right next to it on the beach,” said Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, the KC-135 pilot.

To limit exposure between the agencies and mariners due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the airmen called on the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra because they had two helicopters nearby that could assist and land on the island.

A helicopter crew from HMAS Canberra delivered supplies to the stranded mariners while a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules crew airdropped a radio and message block informing them the Federated States of Micronesia FSS Independence was en-route to rescue and return them home.

At 12 a.m., August 3, the Independence arrived on scene, launched a small boat crew and rescued the mariners.

The Federated States of Micronesia, in the western Pacific, consist of more than 600 small islands scattered over a massive expanse of ocean. Uninhabited Pikelot Island is a low coral atoll, heavily forested and home to a seabird rookery and turtle nesting site.

In 2016, a couple stranded on the uninhabited Micronesian island of East Fayu for a week were found by the US navy after writing a big SOS in the sand.


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