Roberta Ursrey and her family’s trip to Panama City Beach nearly came to a tragic end on Saturday. The Ursrey family – Roberta’s husband, mother, nephews, and sons, were playing in the water despite the yellow-flag conditions. When Ursrey got out of the water, she noticed that she could not spot her family anywhere. She walked along the beach and looked toward the ocean, when she heard members of her family crying and screaming for help. Due to the strong tides, they were trapped and could not get to shore.
“I honestly thought I was going to lose my family that day. People were saying, ‘Don’t go out there’,” she said.
Ursrey got back into the water and attempted to save her family but the strong riptide caught her too and now there were nine people struggling in the water that was nearly 15 feet deep. The situation worsened significantly when Ursrey’s mother suffered a heart attack in the water.
Jessica Simmons and her husband had gone to the beach for dinner. After they returned to the sand and after she got into the water, Simmons realized that people on the beach were looking and pointing at something in the water. “I automatically thought they had seen a shark,” she said, but quickly realized that a group of people were drowning. She had to jump into action quickly.
Simmons, with her husband and a few other people on the beach, began to swim towards the Ursrey family and started forming a human chain which led back to the shore. “I got to the end, and I know I’m a really good swimmer. I knew I could get out there and get to them,” said Simmons.
Eventually, the chain was eighty people long, covering over 100 yards linking the swimmers back to the beach. People who couldn’t swim helped too but stayed closer to the shallow area. Simmons and her husband swam the farthest. They managed to save everyone by helping the swimmer get to the human chain so that they could find their way back to land.
“It was the most remarkable thing to see. These people who don’t even know each other and they trust each other that much to get them to safety,” said Simmons.
Ursrey cannot remember the rescue. Her mother nearly passed away in the ambulance but is now recovering in a hospital. Her nephew suffered a broken hand.
“I am so grateful. 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,” said Ursrey.
“With everything going on in the world, we still have humanity,” Simmons added.