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Volunteers jumped into work together to rescue nine family members from the surf.

Volunteers jumped into work together to rescue nine family members from the surf.

A family day at the beach almost turned deadly as two young family members found themselves sucked into a riptide. While the family jumped in to help, this was not enough, at one point 9 family members were fighting for their lives in the current off the coast of Florida. From the shore, beachgoers watched in horror as the family members became more frantic. Even though the water was not overly deep, the tidal pull was enough to keep the family fighting to get to shore.

While it may have been easy to watch from shore and wait for emergency responders to help the family, strangers in mass stepped into help. One or two rescuers were not enough to get the family back, and they would have had to battle the riptide themselves. One of the first responders on site made an attempt to swim out to help the stranded family, but he was not able to fight the current to reach them. The emergency team called for a boat to assist and waited on shore for the safety of the responding team.

Instead of waiting for a vessel that might have been too late, crowds of strangers linked up to form a human rescue line to go out into the water. This human chain was enough to keep everyone out of harm’s way via the riptide and keep the entire group stable in their footing. With 70-80 people working together, the human chain was able to reach the family and aid in the rescue.

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According to an eye witness Rosaland Beckman:

“Police and paramedics arrived. One police officer jumped into the water and started swimming toward the group, but he soon came back. Beckton said it didn’t seem like he could make it out.

“We stood there on the beach just watching, and the police, they said they were waiting for a boat to come so they could send it out,” she said.

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That was when the people watching from the shore decided to take matters into their own hands.”

Another bystander, Jessica Simmons, was one of the chain creators. The impromptu heroes passed boogie boards and surfboards down the chain to assist the family in getting back to shore. By the time they were able to make it to the beach, they were near exhaustion. As Simmons explained,”…at the very end, we all started clapping and cheering because they were so happy over the fact that we accomplished it.”

While many people assume the biggest drowning danger at the beach is deep water, this is not always the case since this water was not deep enough to overcome the family. The riptide does not overwhelm swimmers by being too deep; it instead becomes too much of a force for a swimmer to fight to get back to shore. Most swimmers who are overcome by this type is current stop swimming due to exhaustion.

Rip currents like the one that trapped this family take approximately 100 lives each year in the United States. It is estimated that on most public ocean beaches up to 80% of the rescues are tied to a rip current.

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The family, in this case, became stranded when adults who were on shore saw two younger members of the family in trouble. As Roberta Ursrey explained, on that sunny afternoon she was:

“…at Panama City Beach in Florida with her family on Saturday when she realized she couldn’t see her sons from the shore.
She spotted the boys, who are 8 and 11, screaming and crying far out in the water. Ursrey and her family ran out to rescue them, but they were overpowered by the current.

The family and several others who had tried to help Ursrey’s sons themselves, nine people in total, were stuck. The group started waving their arms in the air and yelling.”

While the young boys were wise to signal for help, the problem only got bigger as more family members also became caught in the current. The power of the current can be deceiving because the water is not all that deep. To get away from the rip current, experts advise:

“…the trick to getting out is not to fight the current. Instead, swim in direction parallel to the shoreline to get out of the current, and then swim toward the shore.

If you can’t swim, float or calmly tread water. And if none of that works, doing what Ursrey’s two sons did is the right move: face the shore, wave your arms and yell to get someone’s attention.”