On Saturday night on Panama City Beach, a family was enjoying the ocean when the kids, Noah, 11, and Stephen, 8, decided to chase the waves on their boogie boards. And before they knew it they were caught up in and swept away by a powerful rip current.
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Mom Brittany Ursrey was the first to hear them calling for help and swam out to save them (there was no lifeguard on duty) but she too got swept up in the same current. All told, six members of a single family, four adults and two young boys, and four other swimmers were swept away. 1
As law enforcement on the scene opted to wait for a rescue boat, people on the beach decided to form a human chain.
Initially, just five volunteers linked up but then 15 more joined. When it became clear it wasn’t enough, dozens more joined the rescue efforts.
“’I got to the end, and I know I’m a really good swimmer,’ Jessica Simmons told the News Herald. ‘I practically lived in a pool. I knew I could get out there and get to them.’
She and her husband started with the children, passing Noah and Stephen back along the human chain, which passed them all the way to the beach.” 2
At this point, Ursrey, who had been in the water a long time, could hardly keep her head above water. But Simmons encouraged her to hang on and she woke up on the beach to screams:
“Someone yelled that Ursrey’s mother, Barbara Franz, still in the water, was having a heart attack. Simmons told the News Herald that Franz’s eyes were rolling back. At one point, the 67-year-old woman told the rescuers ‘To just let her go’ and save themselves. Instead, Ursrey’s husband and nephew held Franz’s body up as they struggled to keep their own heads above water.” 3
It was in that moment that the chain got the biggest with people linking up wrists, legs, and arms. Nearly an hour after they first started struggling all 10 of the stranded swimmers were safely back on shore.4
The Ursreys, who just moved to Florida from Georgia a month ago, have a new respect for the power of the water. And a thankful heart for everyone who helped save their family.
We are overjoyed at the determination and strength of everyone involved. Take heart, there are still good humans out there.