Two hikers found a message in a bottle and helped rescue a stranded family

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MORRO BAY, Calif. (CNN) — A man in California is happy to be alive today.

He and his family spent Father’s day weekend backpacking the Arroyo Seco River but near the end of their hike, they realized they were trapped, surrounded by high canyon walls and water. So they wrote an S-O-S message, put it in a water bottle. And threw it over a waterfall.

Curtis Whitson is grateful to be alive, and lucky too, after a hiking trip went wrong.

Whitson said, “I don’t think this type of thing happens to virtually anybody.”

Whitson, along with his girlfriend and his 13-year-old son was in familiar territory.

He’s hiked the Arroyo Seco River area before.

Whitson said, “Anything can happen on a trip like that. There’s always something that you risk.”

The plan was to float down the water, pass a waterfall, then reach a campground.

Whitson explained, “We came to the waterfall and knew immediately that it was not what we wanted to see in regards to the water levels.”

Stuck, the group came up with an idea.

Whitson said, “Looking around, I saw my water bottle and decided that I would use that as a note.”

The water bottle was thrown over the waterfall, hoping hikers they heard below would find it.

Whitson said,  “We had exhausted everything that we could do and I was just– how long was it going to take for someone to find us.”

They found a place to stay, spelling out S.O.S  in rocks– then waited.

Whitson said, “We were optimistic, but it was a matter of trying to keep our emotions positive. We were preparing for a long haul.”

Rescue came hours later after the unknown hikers just happened to discover the green bottle.

Whitson said, “We were fortunate that they were drawn to the water bottle and then they were able to see the note inside of it and realized that something serious was going on.”

Now, nearly three months later, Whitson’s life is all back to normal here in Morro Bay, except for a lot of media attention his story is receiving. That’s because it’s a story of survival, ingenuity and good fortune.

Whitson said, “It just feels like a touch of Hollywood and there’s nothing Hollywood about any of us. We’re just normal people that had a set of circumstances that worked out the way that it did.”

Whitson said he was told two men found the bottle with the message and hiked a couple of miles to the campground to alert the host there.

Whitson says he’d like to find those men and thank them.

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