Panama City Beach is the heart of what some refer to as The Redneck Riviera. Yet no one responds to a crisis like a redneck. And the ingenuity and selflessness at the heart of country songs was on full display as 80 people joined together to form a human chain that snaked into the Gulf to save a drowning family.
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Roberta Ursrey and her family were swimming off the beach, The Panama City News Herald reported. This area can have unpredictable currents.
Ursrey noticed her boys had gotten too far out. “They were screaming and crying that they were stuck,” Ursrey said. “People were saying, ‘Don’t go out there.’ ”
She didn’t listen. She swam to them, but they were all caught in a rip current that pulled them all away from the shore.
“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.’”
That’s when people on the beach noticed what was happening.
Jessica Simmons and her husband saw people pointing out to 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 grabbed a boogie board and began paddling out. Her husband organized the human chain.
“These people are not drowning today,” Simmons told herself. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
As she moved out into the water, others banded together and formed the long human chain. As many as 80 people swam out to reach them.
As the rescuers reached the family, they passed them back along the chain of people to the shore. By that time, there were 9 people in the rip current.
“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.”
As she and others swam the family back within reach of the human chain, the dire nature of the event became clear. Ursrey had passed out in the water. But the chain was able to pull her back to the beach. She woke on the beach. Ursrey’s mother was also in bad shape. Her heart stopped in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but she was revived. She’s still hospitalized.
“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.”
“I am so grateful,” Ursrey said. “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.”
“It’s so cool to see how we have our own lives and we’re constantly at a fast pace, but when somebody needs help, everybody drops everything and helps,” Simmons said. “That was really inspiring to see that we still have that.
“With everything going on in the world, we still have humanity,” she added.