Shipwreck Saga Ends at Police Station

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Shipwreck Saga Ends at Police Station


This brief account covers the 1982 shipwreck of John Harrison and his two daughters. The story would be like so many other simple shipwrecks on Palmyra over the years, but for two details:

1. The father was wanted by the police and immediately arrested after rescue.
2. The trio were rescued by the same pilot, Fred Sorenson, who "rescued" Indiana Jones in the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

There were a series of dramas over the rescue of the trio, including both the US and Canadian governments (Palmyra being US territory and the father and daughter's being Canadian citizens) refusing to pay for a rescue as they declared them in no immediate danger.

Eventually the girls' mother made private arrangements with Sorenson, who had an existing permit to land on Palmyra, ignored both governments hesitations and rescued them anyway.



Logansport Pharos-Tribune




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A Canadian man who was rescued from a remote South Pacific atoll (Palmyra) where he and his two daughters were shipwrecked for nearly four weeks had his homecoming at a police station.

John Harrison was whisked from Honolulu International Airport moments after arriving Tuesday and was booked on a felony theft warrant.

Harrison, 39, an industrial designer from Vancouver British Columbia, and his daughters Micki, 20, and Kristen, 13, were flown to Honolulu from Palmyra Island, ending a long and often bizarre saga.

Harrison is accused of sailing off with the personal belongings of three crew members he abandoned in his hasty retreat from Hawaii Nov. 10 to avoid bank agents trying to collect an overdue loan on his boat.

He and his daughters were stranded Dec. 10 on Palmyra, a tiny atoll 1,100 miles south of Honolulu when the mast on their 45-foot trimaran snapped during a storm. They survived on fish and coconuts and canned foods supplied by the island’s lone inhabitant, Ray Landrum.

“It’s good to be back,” Harrison told reporters as he walked into Customs and Immigration.

Fred Sorenson, the Honolulu charter pilot who flew the rescue mission to pick up the Harrisons, said Harrison “knew there might be a problem when he got back, but was willing to get the girls home, to get it over with.”

George Sphikas, a Honolulu attorney representing the Bank of British Columbia said he served Harrison with papers pertaining to his alleged default on payments on the sailboat.

A Honolulu police spokesman said Harrison was being held while police on the island of Maui, where the warrant was issued, were contacted.

Harrison’s daughters were turned over to their mother, his ex-wife Michelle Collette James, who lives in Redondo Beach, Calif.

Harrison’s strange odyssey began last fall when he arrived in Hawaiian waters from San Francisco with his daughters and a crew of three on board the Sisyphus.

He reportedly fled from the islands in November after avoiding collection agents from the Bank of British Columbia. Sphikas said Harrison failed to make two payments on a $65,000 loan for the boat.

The felony theft charges were filed by the crew which was stranded on Maui. The three - Wayne Stevens of San Francisco, and Canadians Ellen Aubrey and Tim Openshaw - told police their personal belongings including cameras, traveler’s checks, passports, navigation instruments and clothing, were aboard the Sysyphus when Harrison fled Nov. 10 with his two daughters on board.

A month later, the mast of the trimaran snapped during a storm. An airliner picked up an emergency locator sigal from the drifting yacht and a U.S. Coast Guard plan flew overhead and dropped fuel to Harrison.

He then used the yacht’s auxiliary motor to make it to Palmyra.

While the Harrisons made their way to Honolulu another plane carrying salvage experts hired by the bank’s attorney, was being prepared to fly the experts to the island to gain possession of the Sysyphus, which remains in a shallow lagoon.


“Shipwreck Saga Ends at Police Station,” Palmyra Archive, accessed May 25, 2020,