PANAMA CITY BEACH,Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -- Three high school sophomores admit they've heard of the dangers of rip currents many times. But what happened last weekend strengthened their resolve for safety, and it also strengthened their friendship.
Last Saturday, Jayne Brannan came home from grocery shopping and got a call she'll never forget.
"I'm more upset now when I think back that I could have had a telephone call of a lot different nature," Brannan said.
Her son's girlfriend called to say the group of Arnold High School sophomores in Panama City Beach, Florida had been swept out into the Gulf of Mexico by a rip current.
Jonathan Brannan, his girlfriend Merritt Cain and Everett Blien, all 16, had been at the beach near Pier Park.
"And then we all got in," said Blien, "and that's when it really happened."
The teens said they eventually realized they'd been carried out far from the shore. They tried to swim back.
"It just didn't seem like we went anywhere," Brannan said. "That's when I screamed for help."
His mom believes the group would have drowned. And they could have, had it not been for a fast-thinking friend.
Cain said she began to cry.
"So we all just started screaming," she said, saying another friend closer to shore began screaming to God. "That's when I started freaking out and I thought, 'Crap, we might die.'"
Blien said it was scary to see his friends panicking all around him.
"And you know screaming, like I've never heard them scream before that loud, and he was screaming for help and she was like, crying and Ally was screaming at God, like you said, and it was just so horrific and crazy, you know," he said.
Blien, an experienced swimmer, did the only thing he knew how.
"I got her on my back and she was freaking out and panicking," Blien said of Cain. "And I kept telling her, like, 'You cannot panic in this situation.' My mom always taught me you have to stay as calm as possible. Panicking is what will kill you."
Blien carried Cain to where she could stand and then went back for Brannan, whose asthma was making it difficult to breathe. Blien said Brannan was floating and Blien became concerned.
"Because obviously I care about them," Blien said, laughing. "But like, I don't, I've never, it just took over, like survival. I have to save these people and I have to save myself and we're getting out of this water, you know? It was really weird."
Once on shore, Brannan struggled to breathe. Blien called 911 for the first time in his life.
"It was so weird," he said, Brannan and Cain agreeing.
Cain said she once believed the danger of the rip currents was over exaggerated. Brannan, an experienced diver, never though it would get the best of him. But now, they say, they know better.
"It felt like so unreal. It felt like a movie and it felt like it didn't happen," Brannan said. "And it's probably gonna stick with me my whole life."
But what has not been over exaggerated is their appreciation. Blien said it felt weird when Brannan said, "Thank you for saving my life."
"And now we're really close!" Blien said.
The teens and their parents are grateful for Blien's help, as well as that of the bystanders and emergency personnel who helped Brannan.
They want everyone to be aware of the dangers of the rip, and remind people to educate themselves on what to do if you ever find yourself in that situation.
See the link attached to this article to learn more about how to handle a rip current.