Courtesy Rosalind Beckton(PANAMA CITY, Fla.) — A normal day at the beach turned into a heroic moment Saturday when a group of strangers formed a human chain that stretched into the ocean to rescue swimmers stuck in a rip current.
Derek Simmons, 26, and his wife, Jessica Simmons, 29, came up with the idea to start the chain when they saw a group of around nine swimmers struggling to stay afloat off the coast of Panama City Beach, Florida.
“The only thing that popped into my mind was if you’ve ever watched ants, when one of their babies is in trouble and can’t move, they start making a chain in order to pass them down the line to get them to safety,” Derek Simmons, of Panama City, told ABC News. “That’s the only thing I was thinking of, if we’re arm to arm, we can get them.”
The chain started with a group of around five people. The swimmers, who reportedly included two young boys and a group of adults who swam out to rescue them, were caught in the water around 6:30 p.m., after the beach’s lifeguards had left for the day, according to Simmons.
“A lot of people were like, ‘There’s no way we’re getting in the water, we’re going to get swept out,’ but I guess they just swallowed the pride pill and they just got in,” Simmons said of watching the chain of strangers grow. “It was pretty amazing stuff for it to be different races, different genders, different ages; everybody got together to help.”
Simmons, who described the ocean conditions as normal that day, and his wife were at the end of the chain. They would swim out to the distressed swimmers and pull them back to the chain one by one. The chain was then anchored by people on shore who would pull them back to safety.
“[Jessica and I] are no Olympic swimmers, not even Coast Guard swimmers but just two average people who spend a lot of time in the water,” Simmons said. “Everybody that was involved is a hero in my book.”
The chain eventually grew to around 40 people, according to a police report obtained by ABC News. The report estimates the swimmers were stuck nearly 70 yards away from the shoreline.
Rosalind Beckton, 38, was at the beach with her 12-year-old son and caught the rescue effort on camera.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Beckton said of the nearly one-hour rescue. “I didn’t know what to do but people were moving fast and they were just putting their heads together and making it happen all at once.”
Beckton said police were on the scene but were waiting for a boat to arrive to rescue the swimmers. The strangers formed the human chain on their own, she said.
“I call them heroes. They were so brave to get out there and risk their lives to save others,” said Beckton, who offered her CPR services on shore. “We were rejoicing when they all got out, people were giving out hugs.”
The Panama City Beach Police Department did not immediately reply to ABC News’ request for comment.
All the swimmers were pulled safely to shore, while two were taken to a local hospital for further treatment, according to the police report.
Simmons recalled the swimmers, some of whom were members of the same family, as being “completely exhausted.”
“They were trying their best to swim and everything but once you’ve been out there in a rip current for that long, it’s like running a race all day long, it’s just tiring,” he said.
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