Family Rescued By Sending SOS Message In A Bottle After Getting Trapped At Waterfall


Madison Dapcevich


Madison Dapcevich

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

Madison is a freelance science reporter and full-time fact-checker based in the wild Rocky Mountains of western Montana.

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker


Friends knew that they were camping in the Arroyo Seco river valley but it could be days before they arrived. randy andy/Shutterstock

When a family of three got themselves between a rock and a very hard place – literally – they were saved by their own quick-wit and innovative thinking.

Curtis Whitson and his girlfriend and 13-year-old son were backpacking and floating through California’s Arroyo Seco 64 kilometer (40-mile) tributary for four days over Father’s Day when they made their way to a 12-meters tall (40 foot) waterfall. The falls were always a part of the trip – the plan was to float down the shoot and rappel the waterfall before meeting up with friends to float the last few miles to a campground, according to CNN. But the family quickly realized that a rope normally bolted to the wall so that hikers can rappel down was missing. There was no way to get out. Even with the rope that Whitson had packed in his camping gear, the water was too high and fast-moving to attempt to drop down.


"My heart sank when I realized the volume of water was just too dangerous to make rappelling down possible," Whitson told the publication, adding that there is normally a rope bolted to the rocks.

"This time, the rope was gone,” he said.

A 2016 photo shows the narrows with the rope still attached. Wikimedia Commons

Friends knew that they were camping in the area but it could be days before they arrived. There was no cell service to call for help. What’s a family to do?

The father wrote a quick note on a stick and attempted to send it downstream, but it drifted into an eddy, according to the Washington Post. Turning to the family’s packs, he brought out a green Nalgene water bottle and carved “HELP” on the outside. His girlfriend took out a piece of paper that the family had used to keep game scores on.


“6-15-19 We are stuck here @ THE WATERFALL. GET HELP PLEASE,” read the note tucked inside. Whitson tossed it over the waterfall and hoped someone would answer his calls. The family made an SOS sign with rocks placed on top of a blue tarp before going to bed in sleeping bags.

Around midnight, a loudspeaker woke them notifying them that they had been spotted and rescue crews would be back in the morning.

“It blows me away how it all came perfectly together,” Whitson told the Washington Post. “What are the odds?”

Turns out, two hikers had spotted the bottle downstream and hiked to a nearby campground to alert officials. Crews flew over the area and found the family’s campfire using night-vision goggles and infrared technology.

Map of the Salinas River watershed in Central California, USA. Made using USGS National Map data. Wikimedia Commons

[H/T: Washington Post


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