POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 23, 2011
The Coast Guard, guided by a telecommunications network created at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, rescued 15 people including six children whose 28-foot skiff had been missing for three days in Micronesia.
The Guam station of the UH-connected PEACESAT program notified its network of high-frequency radio operators on some 69 islands in the western Pacific about the missing people when they failed to arrive on Ruo island after departing Chuuk on Monday.
The Coast Guard launched a search from Guam and Hawaii and covered an area of 18,000 square miles in three days — equivalent to searching a land mass of four states — Massachusetts, Hawaii, Delaware and Rhode Island — when a fisherman spotted the missing people Friday on an uninhabited island about a quarter-mile across. The island was about 8.6 miles east of their destination on Ruo.
The fisherman who was aware there were missing people from PEACESAT reports went to the island and eventually took one of the leaders to Ruo to report that they had been found, authorities said.
A high-frequency radio operator on Ruo notified PEACESAT on Guam about finding the 15 people, and PEACESAT called the Coast Guard, which sent the cutter Assateague to assist in the rescue Friday.
Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, commander of the Guam sector, said a number of other organizations helped in the search, including the Navy and the Chuuk Department of Transportation.
Sparks said he was most grateful to PEACESAT worker Bruce Best, who helped in the search.
Best, a retiree from the University of Guam, was working as a volunteer when he coordinated the search efforts among people living in rural and remote islands.
"He is the real hero in this case," Sparks said.
"Without Bruce Best and his proficient use of the PEACESAT program … the boat that spotted the skiff would probably not have known to be on the lookout for it."
PEACESAT, which receives various federal funds and grants, has been in operation for 41 years and provides a vital link to remote and rural islands in a Pacific area of 3 million square miles from the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The name stands for Pan-Pacific Education and Communication Experiments by Satellite.
The 15 people were residents of the Federated States of Micronesia, a sovereign nation that receives assistance from the United States in return for exclusive military access in the region.
The Federated States has more than 600 islands and covers a land and ocean expanse in the Western Pacific of more than 1 million square miles, an area larger than Alaska, Texas and Florida.
Coast Guard Lt. Bridget Fitzgibbons, who helped coordinate search efforts, said the Assateague crew was still determining how the Mirconesians came to be stranded on the island.
She said the 15 were returning to Ruo with provisions and were thought to have enough food.
Fitzgibbons said there have been times when searches have been unsuccessful in Micronesia, but this search has "an ending we like."
"This is a very happy ending," she said.