Rescue of 15 on Remote Island Raises Important Safety Reminders

We can only imagine the looks on the rescuers’ faces when they came upon a scene that seems straight out of a movie. And we’re glad to see it had a happy ending like the movies, too.

A group of 15 people, missing for three days, were spotted linking hands together to spell out “S.O.S.” as a Navy P-3 Orion long-range search aircraft passed over the small, uninhabited atoll. The atoll of Fanano is part of the Murilo Atoll, which comprises a small portion of the Federation States of Micronesia.

The Pacific Islands is a beautiful area to be out on the water. But when things go wrong, the vast ocean presents challenges to search and rescue resources. With limited means of communication across these small islands, mariners must have alternative methods of prompting help in the event of an emergency. Telling family and friends your boating plans is a great backup to radios and cell phones, which don’t carry well across the expanse of the Pacific. Then, if things go wrong and you don’t arrive as planned, they can notify authorities.

It was a report like this, from a concerned person ashore, that likely saved the lives of 15 people yesterday. When nine adults and six children left on their 28-foot skiff from Chuuk State to Ruo Island in the Federated States of Micronesia, they didn’t expect to run into problems. But when they didn’t arrive as planned, a search began immediately thanks to their careful planning.

“Filing of a float plan with family or friends should be a part of every boater’s routine,” said Leif Wigman-Nilsson, a watchstander at Coast Guard Sector Guam. “In this case, the concerned parties ashore were well aware of when this vessel was to depart, when it was to arrive and the route that it was taking. This information was key to getting the Coast Guard and other rescue agencies into the right place at the right time.”

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