A Saturday outing in Panama City Beach, Florida, almost ended in fatal disaster for one family had it not been for the amazing action from some 80 bystanders.
Spending time on the beach with her mother, husband, nephew and sons, Roberta Ursrey found herself in a panic. Her sons had ventured out too far from the shore and were struggling to stay afloat.
"They were screaming and crying that they were stuck,” said Roberta. “People were saying, ‘Don’t go out there.’"
But Roberta and her family could not stand idly by. In an attempt to save them, the family swam out to the boys, but ended up being deterred by the strong rip current, finding themselves in the same predicament as Roberta's sons.
In total, nine members of Roberta's family, including herself, were now facing a serious threat of drowning.
“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 a stunning 80 passersby, under the leadership of beach-goer Jessica Simmons, created a human chain which enabled the saving of each and every life.
“I automatically thought they had seen a shark," explained Simmons. “I ran back to shore and my husband ran over to them. ... That’s when I knew someone was drowning."
“These people are not drowning today," the brave woman said she told herself. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
NWFDailyNews.com reports on the heroic rescue:
As Simmons paddled, the human chain grew, with 80 people stretching over 100 yards out to the distressed swimmers. Some of them couldn’t swim, Simmons said, but wanted to help and stayed in the shallows. Others stood in water up to their necks, waiting for Simmons and her husband to cover the last few feet so they could pass the swimmers to shore.
“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.”
What Simmons found at the end of the human chain, she said, was shocking. 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.”
"I am so grateful," said Roberta. "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."
"Ursrey doesn’t remember being rescued, just waking up on shore after she passed out. Her mother, she said, ended up coding in the ambulance, but was was brought back to life and is still in the hospital. Her nephew had a broken hand, but otherwise everyone is recuperating after their ordeal," notes NWFDailyNews.com.
"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," said Simmons. "That was really inspiring to see that we still have that."
"With everything going on in the world, we still have humanity," she added.