The Pacific Islands is a beautiful place 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 to effect this rescue.”
After more than 76 hours of searching across more than 18,000 miles, their boat was found overturned near an island, which was approximately eight miles from their original destination. All 15 boaters were found safe and in good health on the small uninhabited atoll.
An HC-130 Hercules airplane from Air Station Barbers Point, Oahu, Hawaii and a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion long-range search aircraft from Okinawa, Japan, along with commercial mariners transiting the area, several local boaters and other international partners conducted the joint international search effort.
“This type of coordination makes immediate searches possible in a search and rescue area of responsibility that mirrors the size of the continental United States,” said Lt. Gregg Maye, chief of Sector Guam’s command center.
Once word spread that the missing people were found, other local boaters came to their aid providing them food and water. The Coast Guard Cutter Assateague arrived on scene early this morning to rescue the survivors.
“U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam did not conduct this successful search alone,” said Capt. Thomas Sparks, commander of Sector Guam. “A search of this magnitude would not have been possible without the support of U.S. Coast Guard District 14, Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, the U.S. Navy, and Captain Thomas Narruhn from the Chuuk Department of Transportation.”