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Message in a bottle leads to rescue of Morro Bay trio stranded on hike

Posted at 7:14 AM, Sep 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-13 10:49:09-04

A Morro Bay family stranded during a Father's Day hike in the Los Padres National Forest was rescued thanks to their quick creative thinking and, perhaps, some inspiration from The Police.

"It was a four day backpacking trip to see a part of the Arroyo Seco that most people don't get an opportunity to do," Curtis Whitson, a Morro Bay resident said.

The Arroyo Seco hike includes scaling a waterfall, a challenge Whitson, his son and girlfriend expected.

"But we didn't expect Mother Nature's course," Whitson's girlfriend, Krystal Ramirez, said.

By the third day, the Arroyo Seco, which means dry stream in Spanish, was gushing.

"It was a very sinking feeling to get to that point and know that we weren't going to be able to go any further," Whitson said.

Outside the range of cell service and with too little food and water to turn back, they were stuck.

"We thought we might have to ration our food, but we were prepared to do what he had to do, not knowing how long it was going to take for someone to find us," Whitson said.

Whitson first tried carving the word "help" into a stick, but knew it looked too natural to be recognized by a passerby.

But then Ramirez had an idea.

"My idea was to write a note on a piece of paper that I'd packed so we could keep score playing games," Ramirez said.

That scratch piece of paper became an S.O.S.

"I wrote 'stuck at the waterfall, please send help,'" Whitson said.

They placed the note in their water bottle and sent it over the water fall.

As night fell, the trio set up camp and held on to hope.

About eight hours after floating the message in a bottle down the stream, an answer arrived in the form of a search and rescue helicopter flying overhead.

"On their loud speaker they told us, 'This is search and rescue. You've been found,'" Whitson remembered. "At that point, I don't know if there's ever been words uttered that made us feel so good."

"That means someone obviously found the message in the water bottle," Ramirez said. "Because our friends weren't supposed to meet us until 10 a.m. the next day. They'd have had no idea we were missing until then. so my initial thought was, 'wow this only happens in the movies.'"

Ramirez, Whitson and his son have yet to meet the people who found their message in a bottle but said they want them to know how thankful they are for the call to law enforcement.