On July 8, 2017, at a busy Panama beach, two children of the Ursrey family got separated from the adults by a riptide 90 meters from the beach. Parents, relatives and even strangers tried to get inside to save the children but all 11 people ended up getting stuck themselves.

With time running out and help a long way away, the people (including a grandmother) needed both a superhero and a miracle. They got it in Jessica Mae Simmons and nearly 80 strangers on the beach that day.

Determined to save them, strangers in the beach - some of whom admitted later to not knowing swimming - formed a human chain. Holding hands, they extended themselves from the shore to try to reach the drowning victims. But even that was not enough as they needed someone with amazing swimming skills to swim past them to the riptide and help each of the victims back to shore.

Enter Jessica Mae Simmons.

When 3 families got trapped in a riptide at Panama beach, they needed a miracle. They got it in Jessica Mae and a human chain formed by over 80 strangers
The amazing human chain rescue at Panama beach, July 2017

  • Armed with a mere boogie board, the young woman, confident in her swimming skills, swam past the human chain to the victims who told her they could barely hang on for minutes more. 
  • Taking the first child in the board, she pulled him back to the human chain and after they took him, returned with the board. 
  • Even though the grandmother of the children (who suffered a heart attack during this event) begged Jessica and her husband Derek to leave her be and take the others to safety, the couple refused and over a tense period of over 30 minutes, went back and forth from the riptide to the human chain, pulling everyone out, one after the other. 

By the time the EMTs arrived to help, Jessica Mae and the human chain had managed to bring all eleven victims back to the safety of the shore.

I got to chatting with AquaWoman Jessica Mae Simmons about that day and more. 

When 3 families got trapped in a riptide at Panama beach, they needed a miracle. They got it in Jessica Mae and a human chain formed by over 80 strangers
Jessica Mae Simmons and husband Derek

Most people refuse to come forward to help accident victims even when there is no risk to their lives simply because they do not wish to get involved. This story is amazing because you swam into a scenario where there was a genuine risk of you dying as well. Surely, the thought crossed your mind.

I guess I am not like "most people." I believe in God and isn't that one of the reasons we were created: to help each other? I mean Adam needed help with the Garden along with some other things, but God knew he couldn't do it alone. So he created "help". Someone who could be a equal. In my opinion, all people are my equal. I am on this Earth to help as many people as possible.

To answer your question, it was a risk. I've had people tell me that numerous times, but isn't that what heroes do everyday? Isn't that what military, police, and firefighters do everyday? Isn't that a risk they place on themselves as well to help strangers? They choose it because they have the same nature my husband and I do: to help people.

What advice would you give to the general public and readers regarding making the extra effort to save a life.

If you can make the extra effort to save a life, then why not? If you have some kind of "life saving skills" whether it be CPR,  nursing, doctors, veterinary, or even a good swimmer, use those skills.

When I scanned the water, I knew what I needed to do and that was to get the surf board and the boogie boards out to them so they could at least stay afloat. I didn't know if I was gonna save them that day, but I knew we could all use the boogie boards and the surf board to at least ride the waves out of the rip tide. If I was out there drowning, I would at least want someone to make a attempt to save me. Do unto others as you want done to you.

Advice on how to escape a riptide by Jessica Mae, the hero who saved three families who had got trapped in a riptide at Panama beach in 2017

Have you been in touch with the Ursrey family after that?

Yes! Some of them moved back to Georgia, like the Grandmother and nephew, but the kids and the parents are still here! I talk to Roberta all the time! They are great people!  I always feel like that everything happens for a reason. There is a reason we were there that day (because we weren't planning on coming at all!)  There is a reason why they didn't drown that day. I hope they find that reason one day!

We've established that you're Aqua Woman. 

Ha Ha Ha! My boss calls me The Human Chain Wonder Woman. But I kinda like Aqua Woman better! Ha! Ha!

When 3 families got trapped in a riptide at Panama beach, they needed a miracle. They got it in Jessica Mae and a human chain formed by over 80 strangers

Now show us the 'everyday human' alter ego of Jessica Simmons . What/who are your favourites when it comes to:

1. Hobbies -  Def Cars! I love muscle cars and hope to build one for myself. I'm very outdoorsy so anything from finding waterfalls to trying out something once is a hobby of mine. I love crafting and making things for people.
2. Movies - I love comedy and true story movies. So 'Thats 40s', "Bad Moms', 'Forgetting Sarah Marshell' and to name some good true story would be 'Deep Horizon', 'Man Down' and 'Mastermind'.
3. Books - I love a true story book. First one I ever read was "Amber Frey- Witness". Another good one would be "Crystal Lies".
4. Food - I am def a meat and potato kind of girl. I feel like I am going to starve if I don't eat some kind of meat! Ha! Ha! So my favorite food is a steak!
5. TV shows -  LOVE 'Once Upon a Time'. I am very sad this is the last season! 😢. I also love to watch '2 Broke Girls' and 'Mike and Molly' are awesome! I love anything with Melissa McCarthy in it!
6. Real Life Personality - I would say Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart!
7. Celebrity - I am a huge fan of Dwayne Johnson! I love his movies! I also love Van Diesel. Melissa McCarty and any celebrity that is down to earth.

When 3 families got trapped in a riptide at Panama beach, they needed a miracle. They got it in Jessica Mae and a human chain formed by over 80 strangers

Author's note:

This is part of my #AtoZChallenge where I will be focusing on Real Life Heroes of Kindness and Compassion.
The list for this year's (2018) Heroes of Kindness can be found here.
Of course, I have been tracking these lovely human beings for years now and have found children as young as six years old and old women in their eighties from across the world who will restore your faith in humanity. You can find the entire list of Real-life Heroes of Kindness and Compassion here.


Damyanti said…
I've read about this amazing rescue before, and it is wonderful to get to know more about Jessica. If all of us thought like her, there would be no misery in this world.
Ravish T B said…
"do unto others as you want done to you" just that thought would go a long way in helping needy people. that's the drive one needs... to be continuously swimming to rescue lives and having done that so successfully hats off to you Mae.... thank you not just for saving lives but families too because such tragedies scar families their entire lives....
Wow! this is stupendous bravery from this couple and I do doff my hat to them. Thanks for sharing another gem of a story Doc.

M is for Many Lives, Many Masters #atozchallenge
Balaka Basu said…
Hats off to the aqua woman.
Shilpa Garg said…
This is simply going the extra mile to save not one but so many lives. Jessica is a true hero of kindness and an angel for so many families. Love her interview here!
Soumya said…
That image of the human chain gives me goosebumps!

Loved her interview, so kind and such a beautiful soul.
Shilpa Gupte said…
Wow! To risk your life to save strangers...now that's the kind of people we need!
Thank you for sharing this awesome story, Roshan!
foodietweeter said…
You are really doing well o this AtoZ challenge.
Congrats and thank you for such wonderful posts.


Ramya Abhinand said…
She indeed is an aqua woman... Fearless and brave with a heart of compassion
Totally agree.. so many look the other way when they see people in danger. Actually rushing into the mouth of danger is now a rarity
You raise a very good point, Dr Ravish. This would have scarred so many families. Instead it became an uplifting memory not just for Jessica and the victims but also each of those 80 people who formed the human chain
It is honestly a superhuman feat.. hence the title :)
She stands miles apart for me.. it needs super human effort to be able to actually perform such a feat!
The human chain too deserves so much respect for what they did... considering some did not even know swimming, it makes it all the more selfless
Happy to share it :)
All that, indeed.
This one is very interesting.Power of goodwill indeed.
Geethica Mehra said…
I truly agree that many people don't come forward simply because they don't want to get involved. Bravery comes in the mind first.
Wow the series keep getting better with every alphabet. This one is striking me a lot. To help someone I’d a big thing -not easy!
Do onto others as you wish others to do unto you. What a brave woman.. She dint even fear for her own life This is just unbelievable..
Vasudha Gulati said…
This is what each one of us should be like. Being brave is about overcoming your fears and helping others. God bless this brave woman for her selfless valour and you too for.vringing such positive stories to us.