About 80 beachgoers in Panama City, Florida banned together in an incredible act of teamwork on Saturday to save nine people who had gotten caught in a riptide.
Roberta Ursrey's two sons, who are eight and 11-years-old, were swimming in the ocean that day when a strong current pulled them deeper into the water, she told the Panama City Herald News. Although people were shouting at Ursrey and her family not to swim out and try to save them, they couldn't just sit by and let their kids drown. So Ursrey, her husband, and her mother swam out, and were also caught in the current.
In total, nine people, including Ursrey's family were caught, and she was convinced that they'd die that day.
"I honestly thought I was going to lose my family that day," she told the Panama City Herald. "It was like, 'Oh God, this is how I’m going.'"
But luckily, a young couple who decided to get dinner and then walk on the beach noticed a commotion in the water. While they at first thought someone had seen a shark, Jessica and Derek Simmons soon realized that Ursrey, her family, and other swimmers were drowning.
Simmons wrote about the whole experience in a Facebook post the next day.
She started swimming toward the current on a boogie board, and eventually 80 other people joined Simmon's rescue efforts, forming a human chain that reached 100 feet into the water. One-by-one, starting with Ursrey's children, they pulled everyone to shore.
The rescue took nearly an hour, Ursrey told The Washington Post, and everyone who was stranded was treading water for at least 20 minutes before Simmons and the rest of the human chain could pull them out.
Ursrey blacked out from the effort as she was being pulled to shore, and her mother had a heart attack in the water.
“That’s when the chain got the biggest,” Ursrey told WaPo. “They linked up wrists, legs, arms. If they were there, they were helping.”
Unfortunately, drownings due to rip tides aren't exactly rare. About 100 people in the U.S. die after being caught in a rip current every year, according to the United States Lifesaving Association. While the statistics don't break down how often kids like Ursrey's two boys are caught in riptides, it's certainly a concern for parents.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration even has a set of online games to help kids recognize and avoid rip currents. But their number one safety tip is to make sure there's a lifeguard at the beach where you're swimming, because the "chances of drowning at a beach with lifeguards are 1 in 18 million."
There was no lifeguard at the beach where Ursrey and her family were swimming, according to WaPo, and if Simmons hadn't have spotted them, or if 80 people hadn't been willing to swim out into the water and pull them to shore, this story could have ended much differently — it's a good thing it didn't.
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