When Jessica and Derek Simmons headed to the local Panama City Beach on a sunny Saturday in July, they had no idea that they would be part of a daring rescue to save the lives of eight strangers by the time night had fallen.
When a commotion began to spread across the mass of people relaxing on the sands, most thought that a shark had been spotted. Eventually, it became clear that several people were stranded out in the surf.
One of those people was Roberta Ursrey. Roberta and her family had decided to take a quick trip to the beach that afternoon before heading home for dinner. Her mother, husband, sons, and nephews were with her. She and her boys were having a great time playing in the water. But when Roberta came back onto the beach, she noticed they had not followed her. Looking out over the water, she was startled to see that they were much farther out than she had remembered. As she walked along the beach, their cries for help reached her ears.
With no lifeguard in sight, Roberta and her family attempted to swim out and rescue the boys, despite the warnings of others. But Roberta and her family were no match for the strong rip current that had whisked their boys out to sea. Roberta thought that this would be the day that she and her family would die.
Jessica Simmons, who was one of the many people enjoying the beach on that day, remembers the moment she realized that there were people who were stranded out in the water. “These people are not drowning today,” she said to herself. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.” She knew that others had tried to swim out and been stranded themselves. But Jessica knew she was a strong swimmer with plenty of experience in ocean currents, and she knew she had to help.
Police had arrived on the scene, but they had decided to wait for a rescue boat. So Jessica and her husband, Derek, started gathering up boogie boards and preparing to swim out to the stranded group. But they weren’t the only ones unwilling to stand by and watch the family perish. Dozens of beach goers started to form a human chain. Beginning at the shore, they joined hands, continuing to stretch farther and farther out into the ocean.
Jessica and Derek swam out along the human chain. When they finally reached the group, they grabbed the two boys and started to pass them back down along the line of people. Eventually, all the swimmers were pulled back to shore. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life,” said Roberta. “Without them, I wouldn’t have my family.”
The brave and heartfelt rescue mission brought people of all creeds, colors, and dispositions together. When lives were on the line, differences were laid aside, and each did what they could do to help. For Roberta and her family, the kindness and courage that each stranger in that human chain showed when they joined hands to rescue her and her family will never be forgotten.