More than 80 beachgoers at Panama City Beach came together Saturday to prove there’s nothing stronger than the human connection—by forming an immense human chain to rescue a group of swimmers caught in a riptide, The Washington Post reports.
Two young boys, Noah, 11, and Stephen, 8, got stuck first, and their cries for help caught the attention of two other beachgoers, Tabatha Monroe and her wife Brittany. Unfortunately, their attempts to save the boys got them caught in the strong current as well. The boys’ mother Roberta Ursrey, as well as her husband, nephew and mother, also got caught in the riptide trying to reach Noah and Stephen. Another couple also ended up stuck. Monroe told the Post that everyone trapped in the riptide tried swimming sideways, which is what you’re supposed to do if you get stuck in such a powerful current, but it just wasn’t working.
People began to point and shout, and Jessica Simmons recalls, "“I automatically thought they had seen a shark. I ran back to shore and my husband ran over to them.... That’s when I knew someone was drowning." According to the Post, there was no lifeguard on duty at the time of the incident, and law enforcement who were called to the scene decided it would be safest to wait for a rescue boat.
After 20 minutes of struggling and no boat in sight, however, people on the beach decided to take matters into their own hands. Rallying together, they embarked on their own rescue effort and began to form a human chain to reach the swimmers. Simmons, who helped start the human chain, told the Panama City News Herald that she remembers telling herself, "These people are not dying today. It's not going to happen. We're going to get them out." More and more people joined the chain, some of whom couldn’t even swim.
Simmons and her husband David swam out to the end of the chain and reached the group of struggling swimmers, who were passed one by one down the chain and back to safety. Ursrey, exhausted from panic and the effort to stay afloat, passed out. When she woke up on the beach, a different emergency greeted her—her 67-year-old mother, Barbara Franz, was having a heart attack while still in the water. This is when the chain grew the biggest to help, Ursrey told the Post, and when all 10 swimmers were safe and back on the sand, the entire beach burst into applause.
Franz is still in the hospital after suffering a “massive heart attack and an aortic aneurysm in her stomach,” but she has since been “taken off the ventilator and is considered to be in stable condition,” according to the Post.
Ursrey says she and her family are safe because of “the beachgoers and God’s will” and that she would like to hug everyone who helped save her family. As Simmons wrote in a Facebook post later that night, "To see people from different races and genders come into action to help TOTAL strangers is absolutely amazing to see!!" She added, "it was life changing to witness it."