Human chain rescues family from rip current

Quick thinking and courage come together as 80 people link up to save lives at Florida beach
panama-city human chain Though the rescue took an hour, everyone was saved. That's some truly amazing courage! (Rosalind Beckton/Facebook)

Some stories of bravery and caring are too amazing not to share. This is one of them!

On Saturday, July 8 in Panama City, Florida, nine swimmers were rescued after they got caught in a rip current about 90 m (295 ft.) from shore. (A rip current is a powerful flow of water moving offshore, or away from the shore.)

Knowing that nine people were saved from drowning is terrific news on its own. But the way in which Roberta Ursrey, her family, and two others were saved is truly remarkable. A human chain of around 80 people joined together to pass the stranded swimmers back to safety.

This is what it looked like.

Unable to escape

When you look at the pictures, the stranded swimmers don't seem all that far from shore. There are even a few other swimmers in the distance who appear to be about as far out as the Ursreys were. But rip currents are very narrow and localized, meaning that the offshore currents are not the same all across the beach. Once out there, the family simply could not swim back. They also encountered more difficulties than just the strong water flow.

Roberta's mother, 67, experienced a heart attack while in the water. Her nephew suffered a broken hand. Though the group was able to tread and stay afloat in the 4 m (13 ft.) deep water, it was only a matter of time before something terrible happened. What began as an effort to rescue Roberta's two young boys from the rip current was threatening them all.

To the rescue

panama-city human chain

The Ursrey family were stuck and unable to swim back to shore. (Rosalind Beckton/Facebook)

That's when Derek and Jessica Simmons sprang into action. This husband and wife noticed something wrong in the distance. They first thought it was a shark, until others on the beach told them that it was a family stranded. Jessica grabbed a boogie board (a small surfboard) and began to swim out to the group. Meanwhile, Derek quickly looked for volunteers to form a human chain.

"If you know about ants, you know when one’s in trouble they form a chain to help it," he told The Guardian website. "My theory was, let’s get enough people, we’ll get out there and pull them in and everybody can finish having a good rest of the evening."

At first, people were frightened to join in. They were worried that they would get caught in the rip current, too. But eventually 80 people had come together. After about an hour, the last of the nine swimmers had been passed to safety.

Safe and sound

Roberta Ursrey's mother is still in hospital recovering from her heart attack. But she is beyond grateful to have been saved by remarkable courage.

"I owe my life and my family's life to [these people]," she said. "Without them, we wouldn't be here."

Watch this video to understand what rip currents are and what they look like. Stay safe!

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