(NEW YORK) — The good Samaritans who formed a human chain off the coast of Florida to rescue swimmers caught in a rip current were reunited Monday with the parents of the family they saved.
“Ya’ll were the angels that day that saved my family,” a tearful Roberta Ursrey said Monday on ABC News’ Good Morning America after hugging the strangers who jumped in the ocean to help. “Without ya’ll and God that day, we wouldn’t be here.”
Roberta Ursrey and her husband, Brian Ursrey, of Panama City, were enjoying a beach day at Panama City Beach on July 8 when their two sons, Noah, 11, and Stephen, 8, got caught in a rip current.
The Ursreys and Roberta Ursrey’s mother, Barbara, at least two other family members and two strangers who swam out to help Noah and Stephen all became caught too.
Derek and Jessica Simmons were swimming with their family after dinner when they saw the Ursreys stranded in the water and called out for strangers on the beach to link arms to reach them in the water.
“I knew just on prior instinct, growing up around rivers and lakes, that if you’re too far out you’ve got to have something to get back in,” Derek Simmons, 26, said Monday on GMA. “We didn’t have a rope or we didn’t have anything so the only thing that could come to my mind was arm to arm we can make length and we can get out to them.”
“It was just on a whim,” said Simmons, who was joined in the water by his mother, Mary Simmons, and relatives Kelsea Hogeland, Adam Cagle and Katelyn Hogeland, in addition to his wife.
Jessica Simmons, 29, swam out to the Ursreys with a boogie board and helped bring each stranded swimmer back to the chain, which then pulled each of the stranded swimmers safely to shore.
The chain eventually grew to about 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.
“It was amazing to see the entire chain form when they could have been doing anything else they wanted to,” Bryan Ursrey said. “They just stopped doing everything they were doing to form it at that point. It didn’t matter who you where, what race you were from, what your background is, they stopped to help save my family.”
Derek Simmons said he too was struck by how strangers came together on the beach.
“That was the most unbelievable part for myself was to see all different nationalities, people that doesn’t speak the same language, races, shape, size, religion, it didn’t matter at that point,” he said.
Roberta Ursrey’s mother, Barbara, 68, suffered a heart attack during the rescue ordeal but is expected to make a full recovery, Roberta Ursrey said.
Noah and Stephen, who thanked the good Samaritans in a taped message that aired on GMA, are also fully recovered but scared to return to the ocean.
“They don’t want to go to the beach anytime soon but they’re good,” Roberta Ursrey said.
The rescuers, whose quick thinking and actions quickly earned them acclaim, said they were just doing for the Ursrey family what they would want others to do for them.
“I think the message for me is that if you’re unsure, of course, I wouldn’t want to hear of anyone hurting themselves, but do unto others as you’d want done unto you,” Derek Simmons said. “So, you know, if you can help somebody, it doesn’t have to save a life, but if you can feed them, feed them, if they’re hungry.”
He added, “That’s just how we were brought up is that you lend a hand to anyone in need that you can.”
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