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Five marooned snorkelers were rescued after the huge "SOS" message they scrawled in a sandbar was spotted by a helicopter.

The group was winched to safety after their boat broke its anchor and drifted while they were exploring a rocky outcrop off Australia's Whitsundays Islands on Monday.

"Just as we got over to the rocks, one of the boat co-owners … turned back and could see that the boat had shifted," Lyn Forbes-Smith told Australia’s Courier-Mail newspaper.

Two members of the group tried to swim after the boat but it was travelling too fast due to a strong wind. Preparing to spend the night on the rock, the group wrote the SOS message on a nearby sandbar and sat tight.

The marooned snorkelers huddled together on rocks near the sandbar as they awaited rescue.Courtesy RACQ CQ Rescue

"We just looked for the highest ground, we looked for rocks where five of us could huddle together because we didn't really want to separate, and we wanted to be out of the wind as best as possible," Forbes-Smith told the Courier-Mail.

Their unmanned, drifting vessel was spotted by another boat, which contacted authorities.

A rescue helicopter was dispatched and spotted the giant SOS at 4 p.m. local time. Their nine-hour ordeal ended when the chopper winched the group aboard and transported them back to land.

- Alexander Smith