His beach wedding should have been the most romantic day of his life, but a single scream that rang out forced groom Zac Edwards into action. When he heard it, the 37-year-old ditched his wedding wardrobe and dived right into the ocean.
Edwards was no stranger to the water. Not only did he work as a marine science technician, but he was also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. Perhaps that’s why he and his fiancee, Cindy, decided to get married at Orange Beach in Alabama.
Edwards and his 32-year-old bride would not only be uniting with one another. Each brought three children from previous relationships, making them a family of eight on their wedding day. Cindy described them on Facebook as a “2018 Brady Bunch.”
So after the bride and groom said “I do” on August 2, 2018, the entire family stayed on the beach to take photos amid the gorgeous scenery. However, although the backdrop looked serene, the water was dangerous – a red flag waved to warn beachgoers.
A red flag signifies that the waves are extra-high or that there’s a strong current – it some cases, both dangers could be present. As a consequence, only strong swimmers should head out into the water when they see the warning banner.
U.S. Coast Guard member Edwards told Metro, “I think people underestimate the ocean. People don’t read the signs and swimmers need to be very cautious. Even experienced swimmers can get into difficulty.”
And that’s just what happened on the Edwards’ wedding day. As their photographer snapped blissful family pictures, a woman shouted out from the sand nearby. She noticed that someone in the water was in trouble.
Jamel Robinson, 18, had gone out into water on a boogie board, but his vessel got caught up in the red flag-worthy currents. He could barely stay afloat by the time that Edwards spotted him struggling.
To make matters worse, the beach’s lifeguards had gone elsewhere along the coast to aid someone else who, too, fell victim to the rough waters. Fortunately for Robinson, Edwards’ Coast Guard instincts kicked right in.
“We all turned and looked, and you could see he was pretty far out, you could see the look on his face, he was worried,” Edwards told People magazine. His new wife already knew what her husband was thinking.
“She said, ‘Go get him,’” Edwards recalled. And, with that, he began removing his wedding attire. “I took of my shirt, but my wife said I didn’t have time to take off my pants,” he told Metro.
He raced into the water, where he found two other teenagers who hoped that they too could help Robinson. But Edwards knew they were in danger and sent them back to shore – not without taking one of their boogie boards.
“I’m so glad I did that,” he said. By the time he reached the 18-year-old, he was panicking. Edwards told People, “He was saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!’” So he helped Robinson onto the boogie board, where he could catch his breath.
Then Edwards began to swim toward shore, all the while pulling the boogie board. But the red flag current began to scare even the U.S. Coast Guard member. “[It] was really strong and it was stopping us coming any further. I was starting to panic slightly,” he told Metro.
On top of that, he had some extra weight in addition to the boogie board he was toting. “The pants were making it hard to kick, too,” he said. But just as Edwards began to worry, he saw a beacon of hope coming his way.
Orange Beach Fire Department and Orange Beach Surf Rescue finally reached their part of the beach. “When I saw the first responders, I knew it was going to be okay,” Edwards said. They quickly made their way out to the pair on a jet ski.
Edwards said he “managed to wedge [Robinson] up onto” the jetski, so lifeguards could quickly bring him back to shore. First responders tended to the teen right away, while the groom’s new wife tried to help him.
“I got a nosebleed from bouncing on the sled, but I went right back into wedding mode,” Edwards told People. “My wife was running out into the water as I was getting out. I told her to get away because I didn’t want to get blood on the dress!”
Robinson recovered from the incident, and, he thanked Edwards for saving him when their story aired on Good Morning America. As for the groom, the gravity of the situation hit him after he had staged the rescue, when he realized what he could’ve lost by swimming out there that day.
Then again, Edwards was ecstatic to have been able to save the teen and celebrate his wedding for the rest of the day – even if his outfit was wet and covered in sand when it was time for the reception. Plus, he told WDAM that he, his wife and his kids would always remember their wedding as “a story to tell.”