Coast Guard to rescue 15 castaways from island
(CNN) — On a small, uninhabited island that’s but a small dot in the Pacific Ocean, 15 marooned people joined hands to form a giant “SOS” on the beach. Washed up in a deserted paradise, all the castaways could do was hope that someone would spot them.
It sounds like an episode of “Survivor,” but for the six children and nine adults from Chuuk, a group of islands in the Federated States of Micronesia, this was no television drama.
Missing since Tuesday, after their small boat hit a coral reef and overturned, the castaways were finally spotted Friday on a small islet of Murilo Atoll, and are awaiting rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard, spokesman Ensign Richard Russell said.
Murillo Atoll, like Ruo, is part of the Hall Islands, a group of small islands, sandbars and atolls with a perimeter of slightly less than 60 miles, located about 70 miles north of Chuuk.
The Coast Guard searched 18,642 miles over a period of 76 hours. Finding a 28-foot boat lost in the world’s largest ocean was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, Russell said.
The Coast Guard hopes to pick up the castaways with one of its vessels after daylight Saturday, Russell said.
Map: Pacific islands
The 15 people — between the ages of 4 and 59 — were heading from Chuuk to Ruo Island for an outing for the children. Their skiff’s hull was damaged when they hit the coral reef, Russell said.
They dragged the vessel to the beach and waited. Their only link to the outside world was a solar-powered radio.
A long-range Navy search plane flew over the area after the Coast Guard received a report of the missing skiff from another vessel in the area.
“Once on scene, the aircraft reported back that a damaged vessel was overturned on the beach and several crude shelters had been erected on the beach,” a Coast Guard statement said.
“Three other boats could be seen on the island, and people on the shore began waving at the plane as it soared overhead.”
The Chuuk State Department of Transportation reported the boat missing to the Coast Guard on Tuesday morning when it was overdue at Ruo Island.
The national government of the Micronesian Federation, the Chuuk state government and the Guam sector of the Coast Guard coordinated a joint search to find the boat.
The Federated States of Micronesia is a democratic island group in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Indonesia. Independent since 1986, the vast archipelago of hundreds of tiny islands comprises a land mass of just 702 square miles, about the size of Singapore. It includes the Chuuk Islands, Yap Islands, Pohnpei Islands and Kosrae.
CNN’s Moni Basu and Molly Green contributed to this report.
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