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Editorial: Joining hands for Gulf rescue reflects human decency

Dozens of beachgoers at Panama City Beach form a human chain to rescue nine stranded swimmers swept away by a strong riptide on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Roberta Ursrey.
Dozens of beachgoers at Panama City Beach form a human chain to rescue nine stranded swimmers swept away by a strong riptide on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Roberta Ursrey.
Published Jul. 12, 2017

As wave after wave of political discord washes over the nation and consensus seems nowhere in sight, take a moment to applaud the kindness and bravery of strangers who saved an entire family from drowning during a riptide at Panama City Beach. Spontaneously, they formed a human chain Saturday to rescue the family of Roberta Ursrey. It is a reaffirmation of the decency of helping someone in their desperate moment of need.

READ THE ORIGINAL STORY: Panama City beachgoers form human chain to rescue family in water

Ursrey and her husband, mother, nephew and sons had taken a quick trip to the beach. She had just left the water, but when she turned around, she saw her sons were too far from shore, having been swept out with their boogie boards. "They were screaming and crying that they were stuck," Ursrey told the Panama City News Herald. "People were saying, 'Don't go out there.' "

With no lifeguard on duty, she and her family swam out to them only to be trapped by the deceptive riptide themselves. As others tried to help, 10 people became stranded in 15 feet of water.

"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.'"

RELATED:: Dramatic rescue of family reminds beachgoers of dangerous rip currents

Jessica Simmons, a strong swimmer, wasn't about to let that happen. "These people are not drowning today," Simmons told herself. "It's not happening. We're going to get them out."

Already, strangers were literally joining hands to save the day. "Form a human chain!" they started shouting. Eighty people — some who couldn't even swim but locked arms in the shallows — reached more than a length of a football field out into the water. Simmons had grabbed a discarded boogie board and with her husband passed beyond the end of the chain toward the family in distress.

"I practically lived in a pool," Simmons told the News Herald. "I knew I could get out there and get to them."

She reached Ursrey's exhausted mother, whose eyes were rolling back. She was "telling us to just let her go and save" the others. Simmons and other rescuers towed the stranded people to the human chain, who passed them to safety on shore, starting with the 8- and 11-year-old brothers.

"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."

Ursrey doesn't even recall being saved, just regaining consciousness on the shore after passing out. Her mother suffered a massive heart attack and is recovering in the hospital. Everyone else is fine. They are fortunate, as about 100 people a year drown in riptides in the United States. If you're caught in one, swim parallel to shore, although some new research suggests literally going with the riptide's flow as it might circle back to the beach.

"To see people from different races and genders come into action to help total strangers is absolutely amazing to see!" Simmons, the rescuer, wrote in a Facebook post. "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."

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Yes, imagine. During the rescue, no one was asking about party affiliations or political beliefs, whether they were pro-Trump or anti-Trump. These were simply good people who saw others in need. In the face of adversity, America needs more moments like this to remind us all of the real ties that bind.