When a Florida girl got caught in a riptide in the Panama City Beach ocean on Wednesday, a woman went out to save her. The girl made it back to safety, but not the woman, according to weather.com, who became caught in the riptide herself. That's when dozens of beachgoers noticed and came to the rescue. They quickly clasped each others hands to assemble a human chain and, fortunately, were able to save her. Although this story has a happy ending, and shows that humanity still exists, creating a human chain as a rescue tactic can be dangerous.
"They're dangerous because the chain can break if you have a weak link in it," Francis Smith, a coastal oceanographer at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Inverse. If more people are swept out by the current, you suddenly have a much bigger rescue on your hands. Many drownings result from people going in after someone else, untrained and unprepared, only to find themselves suddenly out of their depth. A rip current is a lot more dangerous than a shark.
And human chains can rarely reach all the way to a drowning person safely. "Human chains are not normally going to be effective for various reasons," Chris Brewster of the United States Lifesaving Association tells Inverse by e-mail. "First, they only work if the water is shallow enough that everyone's head is above water. That's unusual in most areas. Second, if there's any meaningful surf action, people won't be able to stay put, as they will be battered by the surf."