Three sailors were stranded for three days on the tiny remote island of Pikelot, in the western Pacific Ocean. They were spotted by rescue aircraft and rescued thanks to the SOS message they had written in the sand.

After the mariners were reported missing on July 30, 2020, an international search and rescue operation was organized to retrieve them. Personnel from the Micronesian Navy, the United States Air Force (USAF) and Coast Guard, and the Australian Defence Force (ADF), were involved in the search. The HMAS Canberra landing helicopter dock of the Royal Australian Navy that was cruising nearby diverted to the search zone to assist.

On August 1, 2020, a KC-135 Stratotanker of the USAF 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron spotted a large SOS sign written with rocks on the beach of Pikelot islet. “We were toward the end of our search pattern, we turned to avoid some rain showers and that’s when we looked down and saw an island, so we decide to check it out and that’s when we saw S.O.S and a boat right next to it on the beach,” the KC-135 pilot said in a statement released by the Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam.

Once the real-life Robinson Crusoes were spotted, a Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter of the Australian Army was sent to deliver food and water, confirm their identities and check for injuries. A C-130 Hercules of the US Coast Guard airdropped a radio to inform them that the FSS Independence patrol boat of the Micronesian navy was on its way to rescue them. 

“This case highlights the importance of having a plan, and making sure your family knows when you are expected to return,” said Christopher Chase, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam, in a statement. “Timely activation of the Search and Rescue System by the mariners’ families allowed us to quickly respond with surface and aviation resources. We greatly appreciate the support of the Air Force, Royal Australian Navy, and the Federated States of Micronesia.”