After peak summer season in Panama City Beach for overheated Florida tourists to cross paths they noticed flashing lights by the boardwalk, a police truck on the sand and nearly a dozen bobbing heads about 100 yards beyond the beach, crying desperately for help.
Six members of a single family – four adults and two young boys – and four other swimmers had been swept away by a powerful and deceptive riptide churning below the water’s surface.
“These people are not drowning today,” Jessica Simmons thought, she told the Panama City News Herald. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
Tabatha Monroe and her wife Brittany, in Panama City for a birthday getaway, were the first two to hear the boys’ panicked cries for help. The couple had just gone into the water when they saw the boys far from shore. They swam over and grabbed hold of their boogie boards.
But when they tried towing them back to shore, the women couldn’t break free of the current.
They tried to swim straight and they tried to swim sideways, but nothing worked.
On shore, the human chain began forming, first with just five volunteers, then 15, then dozens more as the rescue mission grew more desperate.
Jessica and Derek Simmons swam past the 80 or so human links, some who couldn’t swim, and headed straight for the Ursreys.
“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.
By the time Jessica Simmons reached Ursrey, the 34-year-old mother could hardly keep her head above water.
“I blacked out because I couldn’t do it anymore,” Ursrey said.
She woke up on the sand to the sound of more screams in the water.
Within seconds help came from nowhere and formed a chain connection, 80 strange people.
Nearly an hour after they first started struggling, just as the sun prepared to set, all ten of the stranded swimmers were safely back on shore.
The entire beach began to applaud.
The Ursreys plan to meet up with Jessica and Derek Simmons once Franz is released from the hospital, but Roberta said she could give hugs to the dozens of strangers who rescued her family.
“It actually showed me there are good people in this world,” Ursrey said.
Jessica Simmons expressed her sentiment through the Facebook post “To see people from different races and genders come into action to help TOTAL strangers is absolutely amazing to see!! People who didn’t even know each other went HAND IN HAND IN A LINE, into the water to try and reach them. Pause and just IMAGINE that.”