A group of Florida beachgoers joined forces to save a life by creating a human chain in the water — and though their mission was successful, officials are warning of the dangers of forming such chains.
The dramatic rescue began on Wednesday around 1 p.m., when a young girl swimming in the water in Panama City Beach began calling for help, witnesses told ABC affiliate WMBB.
One woman was able to rescue the child and get safely out to shore — but a second woman who reportedly followed the first woman got stuck.
That eventually led tourist Ryan Stelmachers to jump on board the rescue mission with a raft in tow, and soon, a total of four people were in the water, according to WMBB.
"The current kept pulling us out, pulling us out, pulling us out," he told the outlet. "Every time we'd take one step forward, it would take us back three steps."
Stelmachers and his wife Briana quickly decided to form a human chain, and were able to pull everyone back to shore safely despite the rough waters.
"I've swam in a lot of oceans and done a lot of things, and I've never experienced anything like that. It's real. Mother nature is no joke," he told WMBB.
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About 12 bystanders were involved in the chain, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico off the Emerald Isle Beach Resort, Wil Spivey, beach safety director for Panama City Beach Fire Rescue, told the Panama City News Herald.
"We're happy that everybody made it out safe yesterday, super thankful for that, but it can go the other way and a single victim can turn into multiple victims or a mass casualty incident," Spivey said. "I wouldn't advocate that anybody who's not trained to effect rescues enter the Gulf to make rescues. Even if you're a good swimmer, you can get overpowered by the conditions or the victim if they climb on top of you."
Local government officials echoed Spivey's advice, writing on Facebook: "A human chain is never a good idea. Many times those attempting to rescue others find themselves swept out by rip currents."
Spivey said that two people involved in human chains drowned off Miramar Beach last week, and advised calling 911 and waiting for lifeguards or first responders to arrive instead of going into the water.
According to experts, the best way to handle a rip current is to remain calm, and not tire yourself out trying to swim back to shore. If possible, swim parallel to the shore instead of toward it, or let it carry you out to sea until the force weakens. Rip currents will not pull you under the water, just away from shore.