A family of three stranded at the top of a 40-foot waterfall in central California turned to an old trick when needing rescue: a message in a bottle.
Curtis Whitson, his 13-year-old son Hunter Whitson and Curtis’ girlfriend, Krystal Ramirez, were on a four-day hiking and camping trip in the Arroyo Seco tributary of the Salinas River in June, when they became trapped in a remote area called the waterfall, according to ABC News.
Curtis told ABC that the water level caught the family by surprise and “one bad step or one misjudgment” could have led to the trio being swept into the river. They quickly came up with a plan. They decided to send a message in a bottle using a paper receipt and a green, reusable water bottle.
“The first thing on it was the date and then below it said, ‘Stuck at Waterfall. Please Send help!’ ” Ramirez recalled to ABC of the note. Curtis scratched “GET HELP” on the outside of the bottle, stuck the note inside and threw it into the gushing water.
The trio knew it was a long shot, Curtis told the Washington Post.
“We’ve done all we can do,” Curtis, 44, recalled telling Ramirez, 34, and Hunter, according to the Post. “The only thing left to do now is wait.”
Hunter added: “It was a little scary. We hadn’t seen a single soul the entire trip.”
Curtis said the water currents were too strong for them to rappel down, and a rope usually bolted to the rocks for climbing was nowhere to be found, he told CNN. They tried to hike up and over, but there was no way out.
After retreating upstream — what should have been a two-minute trip took 30 minutes — according to CNN, they spread out a blue tarp and assembled rocks to spell out “SOS.” Then, they continued to wait.
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Meanwhile, two men found the bottle and alerted the camp post. After midnight, the trio could hear California Highway Patrol yelling over a loudspeaker: “This is Search and Rescue. You have been found.”
“It was one of the best feelings,” Curtis told CNN. “Nothing was sweeter than those words uttered by CHP.”
They were removed from the area later that day. Now, Curtis is hoping to find and thank the two mystery men who found the bottle, according to CNN. As for Hunter, the teen told ABC he’s still trying to wrap his head around the entire ordeal.
“Stuff like that only happens in the movies really,” Hunter said. “Seeing, like, an actual message in a bottle be the reason someone actually got saved is just mind blowing to me.”