Australian, U.S. aircraft rescue three Pacific island castaways

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 23 seconds.

U.S. and Australian military forces, including helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, helped locate and rescue the three-person crew of a skiff that had been missing for nearly three days in Micronesia.

The men were found on August 2 in good condition on tiny Pikelot Island, 190km west of where they had set off in their seven-metre vessel on July 30, according to the Australian Defence Force.

An Australian Army ARH Tiger helicopter lands on Pikelot Island in Micronesia. The SOS message of the stricken sailors can be seen on the beach. ADF photo

As if straight from a Hollywood shipwreck movie, the castaways scrawled a large “SOS” message in the island’s sandy beach. Rescue crews spotted the signal from the air and were able to direct recovery assets to their location.

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

Australian aircraft, including Tiger Armed Recon Helicopters, flew from the HMAS Canberra, part of Task Group 635.3 conducting a Regional Presence Deployment.

Canberra was returning to Australia while the rest of the task group continued on its way to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) off Hawaii.

The ship sailed overnight to reach the search area, and in cooperation with U.S. aircraft operating out of Guam, located the men on the island.

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

U.S. National Guard personnel from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard (ANG) and the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pennsylvania ANG flying a KC-135 helped locate the three missing mariners on Pikelot Island Aug. 2, 2020.

Canberra’s Commanding Officer Capt. 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,” 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.”

The missing vessel and crew were reportedly sailing from Pulawat to Pulap atolls, a 23-nautical-mile journey, when they sailed off course and ran out of fuel.

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.

Notice a spelling mistake or typo?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Report an error or typo

Have a story idea you would like to suggest?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Suggest a story

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *