The men spent four days on the remote Pacific island before they were rescued by search teams

By Joelle Goldstein
August 04, 2020 11:56 AM
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Three missing mariners were rescued from a tiny, uninhabited Pacific island on Tuesday thanks to an "SOS" message they wrote in the sand, authorities said.

Guardsmen from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard (ANG) and the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pennsylvania National Guard found the men on the tiny island of Pikelot, Yap after they failed to show up to their intended destination on July 29, according to a press release from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

The search teams were able to locate the mariners due to an "SOS" message that they had written in the sand of the remote island in the Federated States of Micronesia, southwest of Guam.

"We were toward the end of our search pattern," U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, the KC-135 pilot, said in a statement. "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 SOS and a boat right next to it on the beach."

The remote island
Australia Department of Defence

According to authorities, the men first departed from Puluwat Atoll on their 23-foot white and blue skiff boat on July 29.

Though they intended to travel to Pulap, Chuuk, which was approximately 21 nautical miles away, they never made it and were soon reported missing, according to the press release.

"Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam received notification of an overdue skiff last seen in the vicinity of Chuuk and requested our assistance" U.S. Air Force Maj. Shaun McRoberts, 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron assistant director of operations, said in a statement. "Once notified, we began immediately working a plan to launch crews to locate the missing vessel."

"SOS" message in the sand of the island
Australia Department of Defence

Crews searched for three hours, flying at about 1,500 feet above land and sea, before noticing the "SOS" message in the sand.

"From there we called in the Australian Navy because they had two helicopters nearby that could assist and land on the island," Palmeira-Yen recalled.

Over the next few days, the mariners patiently waited on the island as officials organized the rescue mission, confirmed the men's identities, ensured they had no major injuries, and limited their exposure or contact due to the coronavirus, CNN reported.

In the meantime, the men were delivered supplies by a helicopter crew from the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra and given radio and message blocks notifying them that the FSS Independence was en-route to return them home, according to the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

Finally, at 12 a.m. local time on Aug. 3, the FSS Independence and its small boat crew arrived on the remote island to rescue the mariners, officials said.

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"Partnerships," U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Christopher Chase, Coast Guard Sector Guam, commander, said in a statement. "This is what made this search and rescue case successful. Through coordination with multiple response organizations, we were able to save three members of our community and bring them back home to their families."

In his own statement, Capt. Terry Morrison, the commander of the Canberra, also praised his crew for their efforts and saving the mariners' lives.

"I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world," he said, according to CNN.