The kindness from strangers saved lives.
Riptide Current Panama City Beach
Credit: Takeshi Ishikawa / EyeEm

What could have been a tragic occurrence in Panama City Beach, Florida became a poignant triumph and heartwarming story thanks to the kindness of around 80 strangers who teamed up to save a family trapped in a rip current.

Roberta Ursrey and her family were enjoying a day at one of Florida's most beloved beaches when she realized her sons were drifting away from shore and nine people became trapped in 15 feet of water as other family members rushed into the water to save them, according to The Panama City News Herald.

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Amazingly, when fellow beach goers realized what was going on, they started forming a human chain to reach out and help save Ursrey's two pre-teen sons and the other trapped family members. Standing arm-in-arm, eventually close to 80 people gathered to reach out to the swimmers and bring them safely back to shore as generous civilians helped tow each individual along the chain.

"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," Roberta Ursey said.

"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," Jessica Simmons, one of the beach visitors who helped facilitate the rescue chain, told The Herald. "That was really inspiring to see that we still have that."

Rip currents are quite common. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) they account for 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards. Typically occurring at breaks in sandbars and also near man-made structures like piers, the phenomenon refers to channelized currents of water flowing away from the shore. Speeds vary, and their velocity can change in only a few seconds as they carry swimmers away from land. The NOAA reccomends the following guidelines if you're caught in a rip current:

  • Stay calm.
  • Don't fight the current.
  • Escape the current by swimming in a direction following the shoreline. When free of the current, swim at an angle— away from the current—toward shore.
  • If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, call or wave for help.