When he became stranded at the top of a waterfall with his girlfriend and 13-year-old son, a California man used a message in a bottle to ask for help—and it worked within hours. The trio had been hiking and inner tubing down the Arroyo Seco river in central California on Father's Day weekend when they reached the 40-foot waterfall, USA Today reports. Curtis Whitson says the rope usually secured for people to rappel down the rock was gone—and the current was too strong for him to attach the rope he brought with him. Unable to find a way out of the gorge—or to get far back upstream—Whitson scratched "HELP" into a green Nalgene bottle, put a note inside saying they were trapped, and threw it over the waterfall.
Two hikers around a quarter-mile downstream found the bottle and hiked to a campground to alert authorities, reports the Washington Post. The trio, who had spelled out "SOS" in rocks before going to sleep on a strip of sand, were woken by the sound of a helicopter, with a voice saying over the loudspeaker: "This is search and rescue—you have been found! Stay put and we’ll be back to get you tomorrow morning." The three hikers, who had been spotted by California Highway Patrol officers using infrared technology to search for them, were lifted to safety by a helicopter the next day. Whitson says he is amazed that the message in a bottle actually worked. "It blows me away how it all came perfectly together," he says. "What are the odds?" He says he wants to find and thank the hikers who discovered the bottle, CNN reports. (Read more California stories.)