Tragedy was avoided at a Florida beach when 80 people formed a human chain to rescue 10 swimmers who were being swept away by a rip current.
Roberta Ursrey was visiting Panama City Beach with her husband, mother, sons and nephews on July 8. Ursrey had just emerged from the water when she realized that something was very wrong.
Her sons, along with three other swimmers, were being pulled out to sea by a riptide. They were fighting to keep their heads above water.
"They were screaming and crying that they were stuck," she told the Northwest Florida Daily News. "People were saying, 'Don't go out there.'"
Ursrey and the rest of her family jumped into the water and began swimming out to them. But soon they were stuck, too.
"I honestly thought I was going to lose my family that day," she said. "It was like, 'Oh God, this is how I'm going.'"
Jessica Simmons and her husband were relaxing on the sandbar after a swim when they heard the commotion.
"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."
There was no lifeguard on duty. Law enforcement was present, but The Washington Post reports that they were waiting for a rescue boat to arrive. Simmons decided there was no time to waste.
"These people are not drowning today," she recalled thinking to herself. "It’s not happening. We're going to get them out."
Armed with a boogie board, Simmons paddled out into the water. Meanwhile, her husband and some other beachgoers began to form a human chain, which eventually included 80 people and extended over 100 yards.
"I got to the end, and I know I’m a really good swimmer," Simmons said. "I practically lived in a pool. I knew I could get out there and get to them."
She managed to reach the trapped swimmers and, along with her husband and a couple other people, began pulling them to the end of the chain. Before long all of them had been rescued and guided back 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."
During the rescue mission, Ursrey lost consciousness.
"I blacked out because I couldn’t do it anymore," she told The Post.
When Ursrey woke up, she learned that her mother had suffered a heart attack while in the water. She received treatment at a nearby hospital and is now in stable condition.
Ursrey said her family realizes how lucky they all are to be alive.
"I am so grateful," she told the Northwest Florida Daily News. "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."