Missing sailors stranded on Pacific island saved by giant SOS in the sand

Ben Doherty Pacific Editor
·2-min read

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.

Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they’d set off. Rescuers said they were “in good condition” with no significant injuries.

The men had been missing for three days after their seven-metre skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course.

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Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete a 42km trip from Pulawat to Pulap atolls.

Australia’s HMAS Canberra was sailing between Australia and Hawaii when it received the call for help.

On Sunday, a helicopter from the Canberra spotted the giant SOS, close to a small makeshift shelter on the beach, and it landed on the tiny island to check the men’s condition and give them food and water.

“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,” Canberra’s commanding officer Captain Terry Morrison said.

A Micronesian patrol vessel is sailing to the island to pick up the men.

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, less than half a kilometre long, is a low coral atoll, heavily forested and home to a seabird rookery and turtle nesting site.

The men’s rescue from the island is the second dramatic intervention in the western Pacific in days. A Brisbane man was rescued last week after drifting at sea for three days off the Solomon Islands.

Tony McCracken was sailing from Brisbane to Marau – carrying generators and other equipment for a community hospital – when his trimaran was damaged by a storm and began taking on water.

He was eventually sighted and picked up by a transport freighter on its way from New Zealand to China, then collected by a Bougainville search and rescue team.

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.