The family that almost drowned at Panama City Beach in Florida earlier this month spoke out on Monday alongside the couple that started the 80-person human chain that saved their lives.
Roberta Ursrey, 34, and her husband, Albert, sat beside Jessica and Derek Simmons during the emotional Good Morning America appearance, and couldn’t thank the couple enough for saving nine people trapped in a rip current on July 8.
“Y’all were my angels that day,” Roberta told the couple through tears. “Y’all were my angels that day that saved my family. Without y’all, we wouldn’t be here.”
The Ursreys were at the beach with their two sons, Noah, 11, and Stephen, 8; their daughters, Haley, 18, and Bethany, 9; Roberta’s mother Barbara, 68, and their nephew Justin, 28, when the two boys began struggling in the violent rip current.
“We didn’t do this for any limelight,” Derek said. “We did it because that’s what we would want somebody to do for our family.”
All but the Ursrey’s young daughters jumped in the water to help save the little boys, but soon found themselves fighting for their own lives. Then, Jessica sprang into action. The Alabama native jumped into the water to help while her husband and a few others formed a human chain behind her to bring the family, and four other struggling swimmers, back to shore.
“We didn’t have a rope, we didn’t have anything. So the only thing that could come to my mind was arm-to-arm,” Derek recalled. “I’m yelling, ‘Guys! Grab arms! Grab wrists! We’ve gotta make a long enough path to get them!’ ”
Jessica added: “They were forming the chain … they were yelling that they need, ‘two more feet! Two more feet to get to these people’ … I had a boogie board so I swam out there to give it to ’em to try and keep them afloat.”
The human chain grew to about 80 people and stretched out over 100 yards, according to the Panama City News Herald.
“It was amazing to see the entire chain form when they could’ve been doing anything anything else,” Albert said.
The Washington Post reported there was no lifeguard on duty, and law enforcement on the scene were waiting for rescue boats.
Although the Ursrey’s sons were not present for the interview, they recorded a sweet video message for the Simmons family.
“Thank you for showing so much courage and being there for us,” Stephen and Noah said. “We couldn’t thank y’all enough and you are our heroes.”
Ursrey’s mother, Barbara, suffered a heart attack during the incident and nearly died, Roberta said. She was hospitalized for days after the episode.
“She’s gonna make it,” Roberta said of her mother, noting that Barbara had recently been released from the hospital.