Florida beachgoers form human chain to rescue swimmers trapped in deadly current caused by tropical storm Barry
Close to 100 people formed a human chain at the Panama City Beach in Panama City, Florida, to rescue at least one swimmer trapped in a deadly rip current brought on by tropical storm Barry.
Video footage of the incident showed 50-100 people, including some on surfboards, lining up and holding hands to assist in the rescue, with others watching on intently from the beach. They eventually rescued the swimmer, with a witness at the scene stating that he had been told by a sheriff's officer that "he had a belly full of saltwater and was going to be sick for a while."
But it was not a straightforward rescue. Shelly Callaway, who was at the scene, told WJHG that some of the rescuers found themselves in trouble as well.
"I know that there was four to six people out there, two that actually got stuck in the current, and at least four rescuers that were trying to get out there and help," she revealed.
Brenda Vincent, a spokesperson for the Panama City Beach Police Department, told PEOPLE that authorities also found a 67-year-old man dead in the dangerous waters over the weekend, less than an hour after he was reported missing.
In total, 90 people have been pulled from the Gulf since Friday, with 17 of those coming on Monday. Vincent said they had to make a total of 38 water rescues after officials began flying double red flags, which are used to indicate that the conditions are "too dangerous for swimming."
Officials from the Panama City Beach Fire Rescue warned the public to "STAY OUT OF THE WATER" after receiving "multiple calls for swimmers in distress."
"Double Red Flags are flying on Panama City Beach," they said in a Facebook post made on Sunday, July 14. "Please avoid getting in the water. The decision to ignore the warnings has impacts far beyond the swimmer that becomes distressed."
While incidents such as the one in Palm Beach where people band together to help someone in need are inspiring, Sgt. Mike Morris of the Bay County Sheriff's Office Surf Rescue said it does more harm than good.
"I know that seeing somebody in trouble while you're on the sand is a heart-wrenching thing to go through, but whenever a deputy gets on scene, if there's already people going out there to help, that's going to add more victims," he said.
He also implored the public to pay heed to the double red flags and warned there would be consequences for those who did not.
"You can actually be given a criminal citation or even placed under arrest and taken to jail," he said. "We want to avoid that and just have people stay out of the water for their own safety."