Living Mutual: On the beach

By Allen Wastler
Allen Wastler is a former financial journalist with over 30-years of experience, including time at CNBC, CNN, and Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
Posted on Sep 6, 2017

More than 80 people came together on a Florida beach for a spectacular act: Saving a family caught in a deadly riptide. 

It was a pretty dramatic example of how people, mostly strangers, can come together to help people. These beachgoers managed to form a 100 yards-long human chain into the churning water, reaching beyond the waves and into the sea. The effort literally made a hand-to-hand lifeline out to the nine members of the struggling family.

“I am so grateful,” the mother, Roberta Ursrey, told the local paper. “These people were God’s angels that were in the right place at the right time. I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Ursrey and her husband, mother, nephews, and sons had gone to Panama City Beach, Florida, on July 8 this past summer. The sons got caught in a riptide, where water from waves and tidal flows suddenly forms a strong current channel that can knock down and drag swimmers and bathers out to sea. All of the family, alerted by the sons’ screams, went into the sea to help and subsequently got carried off by the dangerous tide themselves.

A couple on the shore, both very strong swimmers, saw the family’s plight. The wife, Jessica Simmons, swam out on a discarded boogie board while her husband alerted others on the beach and started building the human chain. More than 80 people ended up joining it. 

But its length was a little shy of where the family was drifting. Simmons, her husband, and other swimmers swam back and forth from the end, relaying the individual family members to the chain, where they could be pulled back to the shore. Ursrey’s mother suffered a heart attack during the ordeal. One nephew broke his hand. All are recuperating.

"We need more of that," Jessica Simmons said in an interview with another paper. "We divide ourselves in our own personal life styles, but when tragedies happen, like 9/11 or tornadoes ripping houses down, we come together as a whole. It shows people still have humanity. That when someone is drowning, we just can't turn our backs on them. We have to do something."

Those kinds of acts, people helping people, are inspiring. MassMutual applauds everyone on that beach.

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