Men saved by writing giant SOS on beach


Three sailors, who wrote a giant SOS sign on a beach on a tiny Pacific island after being shipwrecked three days earlier, have been rescued after the writing was spotted from the air by Australian and US military aircraft.

The men reportedly set out in a seven-metre boat from Polawat, a coral atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia, on July 30 heading to Pulap, another island, a 23-nautical-mile journey, when they sailed off course and ran out of fuel, Australia’s Defence Department reported.

The trio had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days when their distress signal was spotted by the military aircraft on the tiny and uninhabited Pikelot Island on Sunday.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) had been asked for search-and-rescue support by the Rescue and Coordination Centre in Guam on the afternoon of August 1.

The Royal Australian Navy‘s HMAS Canberra, which is part of Task Group 635.3 conducting a Regional Presence Deployment, was returning to Australia while the rest of the task group continued on its way to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific off Hawaii. The ADF diverted HMAS Canberra and its aviation assets to the area and joined forces with US searchers from Guam.

The men were found about 190 kilometres (118 miles) from where they had set out when their SOS message was spotted from the air.

Crew of 1st Aviation Regiment in an Army armed reconnaissance helicopter landed on the beach, delivered food and water, confirmed the men’s identities and checked they had no major injuries.

HMAS Canberra’s Commanding Officer Captain Terry Morrison said the response by the ship’s company to the operation was outstanding.

“The ship’s company responded to the call and had the ship quickly prepared to support the search and rescue,” Captain Morrison said.

“In particular, our embarked MRH90 helicopter from No. 808 Squadron and the four armed reconnaissance helicopters from 1st Aviation Regiment were instrumental in the morning search that helped locate the men and deliver supplies and confirm their welfare.

“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.”

A Micronesian patrol vessel, FSS Independence, is on its way to the island to pick up the men.

Independence is a Pacific Patrol Boat built in Australia, delivered and supported by the Australian Government.

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