July 11 (UPI) -- Eighty beachgoers formed a human chain to rescue a family off the Gulf of Mexico in Panama City, Fla..
On Saturday afternoon, Roberta Ursrey and her husband, mother, nephews and sons were swimming and sunbathing near the M.B. Miller County Pier under yellow-flag conditions. Ursrey had just left the water, but noticed two for her sons, 8 and 11, appeared farther from shore than she remembered. She started walking toward the beach.
"They were screaming and crying that they were stuck," Ursrey told the News Herald. "People were saying, 'Don't go out there.' "
Ursrey and some family members swam out to them, but the rip current was too strong and they also became trapped. Nine people were stuck in about 15 feet of water, including her mother, who suffered a massive heart attack during the ordeal.
"I honestly thought I was going to lose my family that day," Ursrey said. "It was like, 'Oh God, this is how I'm going.' "
Jessica Simmons, 29, noticed what was happening while sitting on the sandbar.
"I automatically thought they had seen a shark," Simmons told the News Herald. "I ran back to shore and my husband ran over to them. ... That's when I knew someone was drowning."
She grabbed the boogie board and moved toward them as her husband and a few other men started a human chain to bring the swimmers back to shore.
"These people are not drowning today," Simmons remembered telling herself. "It's not happening. We're going to get them out."
The chains grew to 80 people stretching more than 100 yards. Some couldn't swim, Simmons said, but they wanted to help and stayed in the shallow end.
"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."
Starting with the children, Simmons and her husband and a few other rescuers, towed the swimmers to the human chain, who then pulled them all 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."
Eight-year-old Stephen Usrey told WJHG: "We got caught in the current and, well, our mom had to go in after me and my brother and the people made a human chain and pulled us out."
Ursrey said she passed out and woke up on shore. Her mother, she said, coded in the ambulance, but was was brought back to life and is still in the hospital. Also, her nephew had a broken hand.
"I am so grateful," Ursrey 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."
Simmons said he was amazed at the number of rescuers.
"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," Simmons said. "That was really inspiring to see that we still have that.
"With everything going on in the world, we still have humanity," she added.