May 11, 2015

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

May 2, 2015 Pohnpei, FSM -According to a press release from the United States Coast Guard and an article that appeared in the Pacific Daily News (PDN), four men have quick thinking, an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Beacon also called a PLB, a Personal Locator Beacon), and a coordinated rescue operation to thank for their lives.

PDN interviewed Lee Putnam, command duty officer for Coast Guard Sector Guam. He said that as the boat was making a turn, the front of the boat went under water in six foot seas. The entire boat was filled with water and went down in less than a minute.

He told PDN that one of the men dived down to the bottom of the 22-foot center console boat as it sank, grabbed a PLB, strapped it to his arm and activated it.

"That made all the difference," he told PDN. "If it hadn't been for that, we wouldn't have known until hours later.

At 4:01 PM on May 2, 2015, watch standers at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam's Joint Rescue Sub-Center (JRSC) received a Search and Rescue Satellite (SARSAT) alert for a 406 MHz PLB in the vicinity of Pohnpei. JRSC contacted FSM and told them about the situation. They requested the launch of the 52-foot patrol boat FSS Unity. An automated system also reached out to OCEANUS, a 93-foot Vanuatu flagged refrigerated cargo ship for participation to conduct a search in the signal's location. A request for aerial support was made to U.S. coast Guard's Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Hawaii. Broadcasts were also made advising mariners in the area of the distress.

FSS UNITY launched from Pohnpei and once on-scene, reported experiencing 25 knot winds, six-foot seas, and two miles visibility. JRSC Guam provided FSS UNITY with several updated SARSAT positions before the four men and their sunken 22-foot center console vessel were located 11 nautical miles west of Pohnpei. The men drifted one nautical mile in a little over four hours before their rescue. The men were recovered and returned to Pohnpei. No major injuries were reported.

Putnam said that when the men were found they were clustered together. Two men held onto empty gas cans, the third man grabbed a fish cooler, and the man who dived down to grab the locator beacon was holding onto a fishing float.

One of the survivors told Putnam that they saw the rescue boat pass by twice before it actually found and rescued them. Without the EPIRB the men would have been infinitely more difficult to find.

Having the foresight to carry a properly registered PLB greatly increased the men's chances of survival and being located by rescuers. An activated PLB will alert the nearest rescue center of the distress and allow them to better direct resources to the distress location in a timely manner. Having the proper survival equipment and signaling devices aboard a vessel are essential to having a higher probability of survival, if things go wrong at sea. It is recommended that all mariners inform someone of their travel plans and carry personal flotation devices for all persons aboard the vessel; an alert beacon, whether it be an Emergency Position Indicating Beacon or PLB; flares; and reliable communications.