What started out as a fun-filled day at the beach in Panama City, Florida, turned out to be a near death experience for the Ursrey family. The family’s two youngest sons got caught in a rip current that stranded them far out in the water. As soon as the family noticed that the boys were in distress, they went out to get them. Instead of getting them to safety, though, the rest of the family got caught in the current as well and were just as stranded as the young boys. With more and more people caught in the current, an act of human kindness and bravery be the one to keep them alive.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S., as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes.
Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer. Panicked swimmers often try to counter a rip current by swimming straight back to shore—putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue. Lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of people from rip currents in the U.S. every year, but it is estimated that 100 people are killed by rip currents annually. If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle. While the terms are ofter confused, rip currents are different than rip tides. A rip tide is a specific type of current associated with the swift movement of tidal water through inlets and the mouths of estuaries, embayments, and harbors.”
This ordeal was a lesson for the Ursrey family and hopefully to many readers out there who underestimate the power of the water.
The Ursrey family
Roberta Ursrey and her family, her husband, three children, as well as her mother and nephew, were all at Panama City Beach on Saturday July 8th. It was in the early evening hours that Roberta’s youngest sons, Noah, 11 years old, and Stephen, 8 years old, were in the warm water. The boys were caught in a rip current that pulled them out some 100 yards into the Gulf of Mexico.
Once Roberta noticed that her sons were crying out for help, she dove into the water to go get them. Her husband, mother, and nephew dove right in after her to help her get to Noah and Stephen. Sadly, the four adults also got sucked into the rip current and could not find their way out of it. All six of the family members were trying to keep afloat amidst the crashing waves and being pulled farther and farther out.
There were four other strangers who dove in to try and get the family to safety but were too caught in the rip current. The body count in the water was 10 at this point. There were eight adults and two children. This was when Jessica and Derek Simmons sprang into action. The Simmons couple noticed the ambulance on the shore, the people looking out and then the ten bobbing heads in the water, understanding the situation and springing into action.
The people on the shore understood that in order to get the people who were stranded far out, out of the water, they would need to form a human chain to get to them without other people being caught. What started out as 10 people, became a link of no less than 80 people who took it upon themselves to help strangers in need. They made it their mission to save their lives. Without this human chain, the Ursrey family’s story would have ended in a tragic way.
While the human chain was forming, the people in the water had been in there for over 20 minutes and were getting very tired. Tabatha and Brittany, who were in the water with the Ursrey family were sure they would not make it. Tabatha was said to have so much water up her nose that at the time she was certain that she would not make it out of this ordeal with her life. She said, “I was exhausted.”
Jessica and Derek Simmons
The 80 people who were holding hands and feet were getting very close to the stranded swimmers. However, Jessica and Derek knew that they could get to the stranded people without being a part of the human chain. Jessica knew herself to be a very strong swimmer. Derek and Jessica got in the water alongside the human chain and used the help of boogie boards and surf boards to get the Ursrey and the others to safety.
Jessica and Derek made it to the people without any help but used the props to have the very tired swimmers lay on them for support. It was thanks to the many people in the human chain and the Simmons couple that the day didn’t end on a tragic note. While the people managed to get out, when the Simmons couple went to get Roberta’s mother, Barbara, out of the water, they realized she was having a heart attack.
The stress was too much for Barbara’s heart, the swimming and distress of her grandsons near death experience, as well as her own, made her heart buckle under the pressure. As soon as the human chain realized that Barbara was in grave danger, they really put their hands together and made a last ditch effort to get her out of the water as quickly as possible and into the waiting ambulance.
Watching in horror
Roberta, who was watching from the shore at this point, was beside herself with worry about her mother. She knew that it was a critical moment and that her mother may not make it. Of the people, she said, “That’s when the chain got the biggest,” Ursrey continued. “They linked up wrists, legs, arms. If they were there, they were helping.” It was thanks to the people that Barbara got out of the water and into the ambulance on time.
The whole ordeal from start to finish was a little over an hour. It was lucky too as the sun was going down and if the rescue mission had to go into the dark hours of the day it would have made it a whole lot harder to get the swimmers out of the water and safely ashore. Once the last person was out of the water, the whole of the beach broke out into applauds – for the survivors and the men and women who worked so hard to save the lives of people they didn’t know.
The ambulance took away two people – Barbara Franz and Brittany Monroe. Brittany was taken in and released after a panic attack in the water, but Barbara’s condition was very serious – “She suffered a massive heart attack and an aortic aneurysm in her stomach, but has been taken off the ventilator and is considered to be in stable condition.” Like we mentioned, the stress from the swimming and the ordeal as a whole was too much for the 67-year-old woman.
The two youngest children made it out without a scratch but traumatized to say the least. Seeing their family come in the water to try and save them was encouraging, but seeing them get swept up just like them and struggle to stay afloat was a hard thing for them to watch. At just 11 and 8 years of age, these young boys witnessed a lot and are lucky to be alive.
A hero’s reaction
Jessica Simmons may have been one of the heroes of the story here but she didn’t want to play that part at all. On her personal Facebook page, she wrote, “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.”
A newfound respect
The Ursrey family had just moved to the Florida town one month before this ordeal took place. They are originally from Georgia. The family as a whole now takes their life by the water with a newfound appreciation and respect for the water. They had no idea that they could be swept up the way they did and that rip currents are not seen above the water, as they are beneath the surface. Of the water, Roberta said, “She’ll take you with her, she almost took nine of us that day.”
Speaking of the women who initially heard Noah and Stephen’s voices, Tabatha and Brittany were said to have “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.” It was at this very moment that Roberta heard her boys cry out to her and jumped in.
Brittany and Tabatha “tried to swim straight and they tried to swim sideways, Tabatha Monroe told The Washington Post, but nothing worked. After about 10 minutes, a few young men with a surfboard snagged Brittany and towed her back to shore, just as the number of people who needed rescuing grew.” According to The Washington Post. People underestimate the power of the water, what happened that day taught many a serious lesson.
Noah and Stephen
The two youngest Ursrey family members are seen here on dry land before the ordeal took place. They are just ordinary young boys who like to play. That day on the beach they got separated from their family as they were trying to chase some waves with their boogie boards. It was their screams in the water that alerted fellow beach goers to the boys distress. Their voices needed to be higher than the sound of the crashing waves.
Tabatha and Brittany
Tabatha and Brittany were two of the ten people in the water with the Ursrey family as they were the first to hear Noah and Stephen’s cries from the shallow water that they were in. As soon as they realized the boys were in danger, they went to get the boogy boards they were with and bring the boys to the shore. Tabatha and Brittany were also caught in the current, as we now know, and were stuck alongside the rest of the Ursrey family in the water until the line of people got to them.
Here we see a photo of Barbara Franz and her family in the hospital as she is slowly recovering from a major heart attack and an aneurysm in her stomach. Surrounded by family (and press at times) she is making a slow and steady recovery. The whole of the Ursrey family wanted to thank the people who made the human chain to save their lives, they know that without them they wouldn’t be here.
It was said that, “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 told The Post.” Faith in humanity restored for this lucky family. In times of real need, people do put their own selves aside to help others.