In a story that seems taken out of a Hollywood movie, an American family stranded at the top of a hidden waterfall in California, with no way to safely descend, managed to call for help by throwing a message in a bottle down into the waterfall.
Curtis Whitson, his girlfriend, Krystal Ramirez, and their 13-year-old son, Hunter, were nearing the end of a four-day floating and camping trip when they realized they had become stranded on an isolated patch of land, atop a waterfall on the Arroyo Seco seasonal river, in California. Whitson had embarked on the same trip seven years prior, but recalled a thick rope attached to the slippery wall that had allowed him to safely rappel down and continue his journey. That rope was gone now and the rope he had with him was too flimsy to guarantee a safe descent. They were stuck there, and he needed to come up with a plan to call in a rescue party.
Whitson and Ramirez had told friends where they were going, so they expected someone to come looking for them eventually, but who knew how long it would take for someone to report them missing. They were stuck on a stretch of land atop a 40-foot raging waterfall with no cellphone coverage and limited supplies.
After weighing his options, 44-year-old Curtis Whitson decided to scratch the phrase “WE NEED HELP” into a stick with his pocketknife and tossed it down into the waterfall. Sadly, the stick kept rotating in the pool, unable to go through the narrows, so he decided to try again, this time using a green plastic bottle onto which he scratched “HELP”.
To increase his chances of getting rescued, Whitson also scribbled “WE ARE STUCK HERE @ THE WATERFALL GET HELP PLEASE.” onto a small bar order sheet that his bartender girlfriend had brought with her, and placed it inside the bottle. This time, the bottle went through the narrow passageway and Curtis knew that he had done all he could. It was time to wait and pray.
That night, as the family of three slept in their sleeping bags, they suddenly heard someone shouting into a loudspeaker: “This is search and rescue — you have been found! Stay put and we’ll be back to get you tomorrow morning.” They got up, jumped for joy, hugged each other and cried. They had been rescued, and all thanks to that little bottle they had sent down.
Whitson later learned that a couple of hikers had spotted the bright green bottle about a quarter-mile downstream, opened it, read the note, and immediately called the manager of the Arroyo Seco Campground. An emergency helicopter flyover was organized, and the stranded family was swiftly detected using night vision goggles and infrared technology.
“A lot of pieces fell into place just right for these folks,” helicopter pilot Joe Kingman told the Washington Post, adding that in his 23 years of rescuing people, this was the first search mission organized because of a message in a bottle.