Strangers on a Florida beach formed an 80-person human chain to rescue nine members of a family who had been caught in a rip current and pulled too far from shore.

Roberta Ursrey and her family were enjoying the day near Panama City's M.B. Miller County Pier on the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, when she noticed her young sons were missing, the Panama City News Herald reported. She went looking for them and soon heard them screaming from the water that they were trapped by the current.

Though others warned her not to go in the water, Ursrey, her mother and five other family members swam to the boys' aid. But they then found themselves also trapped in water four and a half metres deep.

'These people are not drowning today … We are going to get them out.' - Jessica Simmons

Jessica Simmons, who had stopped with her husband at the beach for dinner, had just found a discarded boogie board when she saw people pointing at the water. She thought they were pointing at a shark, but when she realized people were drowning, she jumped on the board and began swimming toward Ursrey's family.

"These people are not drowning today," Simmons remembers telling herself. "It's not happening. We are going to get them out."

Panama City human chain

The Ursrey family got caught in a rip current 90 metres from the Panama City, Fla., shore on July 8. (Rosalind Beckton/Facebook)

Meanwhile, Simmons' husband and some other men started a human chain to bring everyone back to shore. Some couldn't swim, so stayed in shallow water. Eventually, about 80 people were involved and got to within feet of the family.

Simmons, her husband and some others then towed the family to the chain, which passed them back to shore.

Heart attack

Ursrey's mother suffered a major heart attack during the ordeal and remains in hospital. A nephew suffered a broken hand. Otherwise, everyone was safe.

"I am so grateful," Ursrey said. "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."

Panama City human chain

Rosalind Beckton, who posted this and other photos on Facebook, writes: 'All race & ages joining together to save lives. Emergency Responders are all standing on the sand.' (Rosalind Beckton/Facebook)

Simmons said she was impressed by everyone working together to rescue the family.

"It's so cool to see how we have our own lives and we're constantly at a fast pace, but when somebody needs help, everybody drops everything and helps," Simmons told the newspaper. "That was really inspiring to see that we still have that.

"With everything going on in the world, we still have humanity," she added.