Many of the people interviewed by The News Herald said being at the beach for a limited time draws them into the water on dangerous days. Some blamed it on a lack of “common sense.”

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Waves crashed in the distance and red flags flapped overhead Sunday while Mandy Davis and her family lounged on the beach. 

As Father’s Day unfolded, their beach camp site near the M.B. Miller Pier gained a group of friendly young people as neighbors. Both groups relaxed under sometimes overcast skies until about 2:30 p.m., when the day took a tragic turn in the form of a large wave overtaking one member of the neighboring group. As he began struggling against the current, several beachgoers gathered together in hopes of staging a rescue attempt, Davis said. 

“We tried to get in the water and form like ... like a human chain,” Davis said. “By the time we got people out to about chest deep, he disappeared in the waves.” 

Davis said several people kept looking for the man — later identified as Tony Orlando Jackson, 21, of Cartersville, Georgia — including a Navy SEAL who dove in. But Jackson’s body was not found until several hours later. 

“It was surreal,” Davis said. “I started crying for a while after that.” 

Davis, of Kentucky, said it was her second time in Panama City Beach, and the experience left her shaken. She wasn’t the only visitor Wednesday on the beach on high alert to the dangers of the Gulf of Mexico. During the past month, the lives of seven people have been claimed by the emerald waters — four in the past five days — and many visitors on the beach said they had at least seen rescues. 

Kim Dowdy, of Tennessee, said she had seen one water rescue Wednesday near the pier and about five a day earlier before lifeguards began going up and down the beach with a bullhorn to warn beachgoers of the dangerous rip currents. 

“Even then, after about 10 minutes, they started getting back in,” Dowdy said. 

Near Gulfcrest Condominiums and Public Access 24, Norman Sadler, of Georgia, sat with his family Wednesday after a midday water rescue. Only about an hour earlier, beach patrols had changed the flags flying overhead from yellow to red. But Sadler, whose family regularly comes to the beach, said they could tell by stepping in the water that the day could be dangerous. 

“You could feel the tow,” Sadler said. “We were very cautious. Without adult supervision, the kids get their feet wet and that’s it.” 

Despite red flags overhead and signs on the ground in an area beside the county pier that read “No Swimming Between Signs: Dangerous Rip Current,” numerous children and adults ventured into the water. Lifeguards perched in a nearby tower kept a keen eye on the swimmers. 

One person was pulled unresponsive from the water near Access 24, but officials said the incident appeared to be a health issue, and the patient was revived. 

Many of the people interviewed by The News Herald said being at the beach for a limited time draws them into the water on dangerous days. Some blamed it on a lack of “common sense.” But others concluded that city and county officials could take additional steps to educate visitors about the flag system and how to survive dangerous conditions. 

Davis suggested placing pamphlets in condos or adding signage at the entrances to hotel pools similar to those at the entrances of public accesses. She said the disturbing experience has given her a new perspective of the Gulf. 

“It definitely makes you re-evaluate it,” she said.