“Help” on the sand with palm leaves: rescuing castaways from a desert atoll in Micronesia after 9 days

They were preserved thanks to palm fronds, which were arranged in the sand to form four letters that can be seen from above. The request is simple: “Help.” Thus, three fishermen were identified and recovered on an atoll in Micronesia, after their ship was shipwrecked on the beaches of Pikelot, in the state of Yap. The three sailors set off from Pululuwat Atoll on March 31, intending to go on a fishing trip around the Pikelot area. However, when they arrived at the site, the three expert sailors, aged around 40, were surprised by high waves and rough seas, which put their boat in difficulty and damaged the engine. The castaways were able to swim to the white beaches of the small island of Pikelot, an uninhabited island of just over 12 hectares. With no radio and no other means of communicating their situation to the outside world, they decided to scatter palm fronds on the sand, forming large letters with a plea for help, hoping to be spotted from afar. And so it was after more than a week. On those days, nine in all, the castaways ate coconuts and drank fresh water from a well made by fishermen who occasionally frequented the island.

The relationship with the savior and the precedent

On April 6, a relative of one of them raised the alarm and called rescuers in Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States. “Pikelot Island is part of the Federated States of Micronesia, a Pacific country located between the Philippines and Hawaii and consisting of more than 600 islands spread over approximately 2.5 million square kilometers of ocean.” CNN Dealing with the issue, to highlight the difficulties of searches. The next day, they were spotted by the US Navy thanks to the message, and were given some survival kits from above. The actual recovery operation was completed on April 9, when a Coast Guard boat arrived at the island. But the surprises are not over yet. One of the rescuers spoke the same language as the castaways, and when he introduced himself he discovered that he was a relative of one of the three sailors. Not only. In August 2020, a similar incident occurred with three other fishermen, who remained in Pikelot for three days. Even then, they thought – and they were right – that a visual message from above might help them. And so they did. But on that occasion, they were more subtle, “writing” just three universal letters in the sand: “SOS.”

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Image: EPA/Australian Defense Force/Commonwealth of Australia 2020 | Previous from August 2020

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