It was an incredible moment: dozens of strangers – many of whom couldn’t swim – joined hands and formed a human chain in a desperate attempt to save a drowning family caught in a dangerous riptide.
Nine family members, including two young children, found themselves caught in a treacherous current in the Gulf of Mexico. Unable to escape the patch of water, they soon feared the worst – with mother Roberta Usrey telling the Panama City News Herald: “I honestly thought I was going to lose my family that day. It was like, ‘Oh God, this is how I'm going.’”
Thankfully, though, beachgoer Jessica Simmons happened to catch sight of the family.
Simmons grabbed a boogie board and began to paddle out into the ocean, intent on pulling them back to safety. On the shore, meanwhile, her husband helped to round up people to form a human chain.
“These people are not drowning today,” Simmons told herself. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
As Simmons paddled further and further away from the shore, the human chain grew, with 80 people stretching over 100 yards out to follow her.
“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.”
After 30 minutes, she finally reached Usrey and her family, they were in a very bad way.
However Simmons remained calm and, with help from her husband, began towing them back one-by-one to the human chain, where they were pulled back 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.”
She added: “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. That was really inspiring to see we still have that.”
Ursrey doesn't remember being rescued: she can only recall the panic of the ocean, and waking up on the shore.
She and her family are all recovering after the terrifying incident – and they are all incredibly grateful to their team of rescuers.
“I am so grateful,” she 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.”