‘HELP’ Message on Beach Triggers Unlikely Rescue for Castaways

When several shipwrecked mariners washed up on a remote Micronesian atoll last week, there was no guarantee anyone would find them. But an unlikely rescue thanks to a message spelled out in the sand led to a family reunion for the three men.

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter responded. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard


The men, all in their 40s but not yet named by authorities, were stranded on Pikelot Atoll. The tiny outcrop belongs to the Federated States of Micronesia and covers just 12 hectares. The seafarers later told Coast Guard officials they crashed there after their 20-foot skiff sustained motor damage in choppy seas.

They had embarked on the trip on Easter Sunday from Polowat Atoll, over 160 kilometers away. Nobody knew they’d run into trouble until April 6, when a worried relative called rescuers.

‘It’s a crazy world’

The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy both scrambled to respond. Overcoming delays from adverse weather and gathering assets from as far away as Japan, crews deployed into a 200,000 square km initial search area on April 7.

Searching Micronesia’s Yap archipelago is challenging under any circumstances. It’s a remote group of low coral atolls inside a sprawling coral reef in the western Caroline Islands. Then, on a modest beach on little Pikelot Atoll, rescuers in a passing Boeing P-8 Poseidon spotted a plea for “HELP.”

“The mariners spelled out “HELP” on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” rescue coordinator Lt. Chelsea Garcia said in a statement. “This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location.”

Crews eventually dropped supplies including a radio to the men, who relayed their status. They’d been subsisting on coconut meat and drinking water from a well placed on the island to support fishermen.

On April 9, the Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry motored onshore to pick up the three maroons. On board was Petty Officer 2nd Class Eugene Halishlius, who was about to become part of a stunning development.

oliver henry speeding away from shore

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard


Halishlius first noticed the men’s excitement that he spoke their language. After further chat, it became clear their ties were deeper.

It’s a crazy world, I actually found out I’m related to them!” Halishlius told CNN. He was one man’s third cousin; the other men’s fourth. “He couldn’t believe I’m with the Coast Guard trying to rescue them.”

Halishlius and the Oliver Henry crew deposited the men safely back on Polowat Atoll.

on board the oliver henry

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard


Perhaps strangest of all, this wasn’t the first time mariners got stranded on remote Pikelot. In a 2020 incident, three castaways spelled out “SOS” on the same beach.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.