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- In June, Curtis Whitson and his family went backpacking along the Arroyo Seco River, CNN reported.
- But when the currents became too strong, Whitson, his girlfriend, and 13-year-old son became stranded.
- In an effort to be rescued, the group sent an SOS message in a bottle down a waterfall, the Washington Post reported.
- Two hikers plucked the bottle from the roaring river and alerted rescue officials, saving the family’s lives.
- Now Whitson wants to find the hikers and thank them, he told CNN.
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Curtis Whitson had backpacked along the Arroyo Seco River before.
So when he brought his girlfriend, Krystal Ramirez, and 13-year-old son backpacking over Father’s Day weekend in June, he expected a challenging but fun few days of camping and tubing down the river, CNN reported.
All was well for the first couple of days, but on the third day of the trip, Whitson realized things weren’t going according to plan. Whitson, an experienced backpacker who typically goes on 20 trips a summer, told CNN that the water levels were high, covering a rope they needed to use to make it to meet their friends before floating to the final campground.
“My heart sank when I realized the volume of water was just too dangerous to make rappelling down possible,” he said.
At that point, the trio knew they were trapped. Feeling despondent, they sent out two “SOS” messages.
The first came in a green Nalgene bottle. They carved “Help” onto either side of the bottle and stuffed it with a message scrawled on a spare piece of paper Ramirez had packed for games.
“WE ARE STUCK HERE @ THE WATERFALL GET HELP PLEASE,” Whitson wrote, along with the date, the Washington Post reported.
They tossed the Nalgene over the waterfall and hoped for the best, Whitson said.
Later, they walked upstream to camp for the night. There they constructed a large, physical SOS on the ground. They kept the message, assembled out of rocks, on the ground overnight while they slept.
The messages worked.
That night, they were awakened by a helicopter search and rescue team from California Highway Patrol, who said they were tipped off by a duo of hikers who found the Nalgene.
“This is search and rescue – you have been found! Stay put and we’ll be back to get you tomorrow morning,” Whitson recalled hearing, the Washington Post reported.
The hikers had carried the message to a nearby campground, which led the CPH team to the stranded campers. But though they delivered the tip, they didn’t give their names. Now, Whitson wants to find and thank the hikers who may have saved their lives, he told CNN.
For now, the trio can’t believe their incredible luck.
“It blows me away how it all came perfectly together,” Whitson told the Washington Post. “What are the odds?”
Ramirez agreed, adding that they were also fortunate they told people about their plans, which would have acted as an additional safeguard.
“I knew that our friends would call somebody at some point when we didn’t show up,” she said. “But I was worried about how long it might take for anyone to find us.”
Joe Kingman, a 51-year-old rescue pilot of 23 years, told the Washington Post this is the first time he’s heard of a rescue mission launched by a message in a bottle.
“A lot of pieces fell into place just right for these folks,” he said.
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