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3 rescued island castaways spelled ‘help’ with palm fronds in Pacific

HONOLULU — The men rescued in this tale of three castaways were not named Tom Hanks, or Gilligan, or Robinson Crusoe. Though they might as well have been.

In a scene straight from Hollywood, or a New Yorker cartoon, a U.S. Navy plane spotted the word “help” spelled out in palm fronds on a beach on a deserted island in the remote Pacific.

The three men, missing for three days after a wave overtook the skiff they were traveling in, were found waving their orange life jackets on the tiny Micronesian island of Fanadik, several hundred miles north of Papua New Guinea, officials said Saturday.

The men’s families reported them missing Tuesday after they failed to show up at the Micronesian island of Weno, where they were traveling from their home island, Pulap.

“Fortunately for them, they were all wearing life jackets and were able to swim to the deserted island,” U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Melissa McKenzie said.

A local boat picked the men up and took them to a hospital. McKenzie said she didn’t have information on the men’s condition Saturday, but officials told the Washington Post they were not injured.

Two bulk carriers searched a combined 17 hours for the men as part of AMVER, a U.S. Coast Guard voluntary search and rescue program. With AMVER, rescue coordinators can identify participating ships in the area of distress and ask them to help.

In the last two weeks, 15 people have been rescued in the Pacific with the help of 10 AMVER vessels and six aircrews, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

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