When people act together, unified, it really is something special to watch.
Hundreds of beachgoers in Florida over the weekend witnessed something truly remarkable: around 80 strangers spontaneously became a massive, well coordinated rescue force, forming a human chain stretching almost 100 yards that ultimately saved the lives of an entire family.
Roberta Ursrey and her family were enjoying a day in Panama City Beach near the Miller County Pier. Her husband, mom, sons and nephews were all there having a good time cooling off.
But when she and the family decided to hop out of the water for a few minutes, she realized she was the only one who made it to shore. Looking back she spotted them, and quickly noticed the current had caused them to drift quite a ways out.
And then things got worse. Much worse.
The Northwest Florida Daily News has more:
“They were screaming and crying that they were stuck,” Ursrey recalled in an interview Monday. “People were saying, ‘Don’t go out there.’ ”
Unwilling to watch them drown, Ursrey and her family swam out to them, but the rip current was much stronger than they realized and despite her best efforts to escape, they were trapped as well. All in all, Ursrey said there were nine people stuck in about 15 feet of water, including her mother, who suffered a massive heart attack during the ordeal and very nearly died.
“I honestly thought I was going to lose my family that day,” Ursrey said. “It was like, ‘Oh God, this is how I’m going.’ ”
Praise God Jessica Simmons was also there on the beach Saturday. She’d made the last minute decision to have dinner out on the beach and was just getting ready to head out when she heard the commotion. She noticed everyone pointing at the water.
“I automatically thought they had seen a shark,” Simmons said. “I ran back to shore and my husband ran over to them. … That’s when I knew someone was drowning.”
Simmons isn’t the type of person to stand by and watch someone in distress. Back in Alabama, where she’s from, Simmons said she once walked 11 miles after a tornado to help people clean up their mess and get their lives back together. So when she saw Ursrey’s family in trouble, she grabbed the boogie board and started toward them while her husband and a few other men started a human chain to bring the swimmers back to shore.
That’s when it happened. Following Simmons lead, other strangers also recognized what was happening, and began spontaneously making the human chain. Another person would join and then another and another. Some were in water up to their necks.
““These people are not drowning today,” Simmons said to herself, getting pumped up. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
Some of the people who joined the chain couldn’t even swim, but wanted to help, according to NWF Daily News. When Simmons reached the family in trouble, she was shocked.
Ursrey’s mother was exhausted, her eyes were rolling back and Simmons remembered her “drinking so much water” and “telling us to just let her go and save us.” Everyone was exhausted, the waves knocking them under. One by one, starting with the children, Simmons and her husband, along with a few other rescuers, towed the swimmers to the human chain, who then pulled them all to shore.
“It was the most remarkable thing to see,” Simmons said. “These people who don’t even know each other and they trust each other that much to get them to safety.”
Ursey was left speechless. “These people were God’s angels that were in the right place at the right time. I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here,” she told NWFDN.
“When somebody needs help, everybody drops everything and helps. That was really inspiring to see that we still have that. With everything going on in the world, we still have humanity,” Simmons said.