Three mariners stranded for more than a week, 100 miles from home on a remote mid-Pacific atoll, were rescued April 9 in a coordinated effort by the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy.

According to the Coast Guard, on April 6 the Joint Rescue Sub-Center (JRSC) on Guam received a distress call from a relative of the three men, reporting her three uncles had not returned from Pikelot Atoll, approximately 100 nautical miles northwest of Polowat Atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia.  

The trio, all men in their 40s, reportedly embarked on their voyage from Polowat Atoll Easter Sunday in a 20-foot open skiff, equipped with an outboard motor and experience in navigating those waters. 

Watchstanders at JRSC Guam immediately began coordinating a search and rescue operation. They worked to mobilize aircraft, dealing with issues of availability, operational commitments, and weather conditions.

Their persistent efforts led to engaging a U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft crew from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, and diverting the Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry, already underway in Micronesia, to the initial search area covering some 78,000 square nautical miles. 

On April 7 the P-8 Poseidon aircrew overflew Pikelot Atoll, and spotted the three men’s improvised distress message.

"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. This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location" said Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator on the day they were located."

The Navy aviators dropped survival packages to sustain the mariners, while the Oliver Henry was rerouted to Pikelot Atoll to pick them up. The next day, a Coast Guard HC-130J Hercules aircrew from Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii flew over the atoll, relocating the three men and dropping a radio to establish communication.

The mariners reported they were in good health, had access to food and water, and had recovered their skiff. But the boat was damaged and its outboard engine disabled, and they asked for help returning to Polowat.

The Oliver Henry crew rendezvoused with the mariners on the beach at Pikelot Atoll on the morning of April 9, and rescued the mariners and their equipment and returned them to Polowat Atoll. 

In its summary of the rescue operation the Coast Guard put in a plug for emergency position indicating radio beacons. In the Pikelot Atoll case, the rescuers were reliant on the relative’s initial report and search aircraft, but an EPIRB could have led directly to the stranded men.

"Whether we're out there protecting valuable resources or saving lives, we're not just visitors – we're members of this vibrant maritime community that connects all these islands," said Lt. Ray Cerrato, commanding officer of USCGC Oliver Henry. "This recent operation near Pikelot Atoll hits home the kind of difference we can make. It's about more than just performing a duty; it's about the real human connections we forge and the lives we touch.”

A boat crew from the Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry picked up three stranded mariners on the beach at Pikelot Atoll April 9, 2024. Coast Guard photo.