Stranded Mariners Spelled ‘HELP’ on the Beach, and They Got It

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued three men who were stranded on a tiny Pacific island for more than a week. The men leveraged a survival trick worthy of the movie screen—they spelled H-E-L-P out on the beach using palm leaves. The Coast Guard says the mariners’ message was a “crucial factor in their discovery.”

According to a Coast Guard press release, a relative contacted officials on April 6 after the three men didn’t return home after a fishing trip. In fact, they had become stranded on Pikelot Atoll, an uninhabited outer island of the Federated States of Micronesia.

The men left from Polowat Atoll (about 100 nautical miles from Pikelot Atoll) on March 31 in a 20-foot open skiff.

Search-and-rescue efforts initially spanned over 78,000 square nautical miles, but a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft spotted the H-E-L-P message on April 7. The aircraft crew deployed survival packages to the men until they could attempt a rescue.

On April 9, the USCGC Oliver Henry arrived at Pikelot Atoll. The crew got the mariners off the desert island and home safely. Mission accomplished.

The crew of USCGC Oliver Henry helps transfer the belongings of three mariners stranded on Pikelot Atoll, Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia, on April 9, 2024. (U.S. Coast Guard)

An ‘Act of Ingenuity’

“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,” said Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the mission coordinator on April 7. “This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location.”

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