Beachgoers formed a 100-yard long human chain to rescue a family and several other swimmers caught in a riptide Saturday evening.
A group of 70-80 strangers linked hands together to successfully bring nine swimmers trapped in the ocean back to shore, CNN reported.
Roberta Ursrey and her family were enjoying a day in the water at Panama City Beach when Ursrey, walking back to shore, noticed her two sons were a lot farther out into the ocean than she thought.
When she heard her sons scream, she knew she had to go in after them, despite warnings from beachgoers saying not to go into the water.
“They were screaming and crying that they were stuck,” Ursrey told the Panama City News Herald Monday.
Despite her best efforts to save her family, Ursrey got caught in the riptide along with the rest of her family.
“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 where Jessica and Derek Simmons came in.
When Jessica and Derek saw the people gathering in a crowd to look at the water, they thought there was a shark sighting.
“I automatically thought they had seen a shark,” Jessica 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 to swim towards the family in distress while her husband, Derek, started a human chain along with several other men.
“These people are not drowning today,” Simmons recalled telling herself. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
As Simmons paddled out to the family, the chain grew to 80 people spanning 100 yards with surfboards and boogie boards to pull the distressed swimmers to shore.
“I gave the little boy a boogie board and told the mom to hang on to it. After 15 mins of me pulling them towards the human chain, the group of people PULLED him to shore like a chain,” Simmons recounted on Facebook.
The chain pulled Ursrey’s two sons back to shore first, then pulled in Ursrey and her mother.
“As a mama, I’m supposed to be able to protect them and do everything, and I couldn’t do it that day,” Ursrey told WJHG. “I had to have help, which I was eternally grateful for that.”
Ursrey’s mother, Barbara Franz, suffered a massive heart attack while in the ocean and is recovering in the hospital, where she remains in stable condition.
The Washington Post reports that the Ursrey family plans to meet Jessica and Derek once Franz is released from the hospital.