Robinson recognized for saving two Navy cadets from drowning in Gulf

Kaitie Meyer/Navarre Press
Special to the Boonville Daily News
U.S park ranger Andrew Robinson was awarded the Citizens Life Saving Award April 14 for saving two young adults from double red flag waters on a Saturday afternoon.

Violent waves crashed the shore March 27 as U.S. park ranger Andrew Robinson dove into the cold Gulf of Mexico at Opal Beach to save two distressed swimmers about 100 yards out.

A 25-year-old male and a 19-year-old female, both Navy cadets, got caught in a rip current that pushed them out into the rough waters past the breaking point that Saturday afternoon. Robinson scanned the water after being alerted by a beachgoer and noticed them struggling to stay afloat. He immediately took action.

“It was more instinct,” Robinson said.

Robinson jumped into the water and swam out to the rescue. He said he hadn’t been in waves like that in 20 years and the whole experience was intense.

“All you could ever see was just the tops of their heads, like little cherries sitting up on top of the water,” Robinson said. “Because they were right to the point that they were both about to go down.”

The two stayed vocal with Robinson and the ranger assured the victims he was there and was going to help them.

He first retrieved the female and brought her back to the beach. Out-of-breath, he swam back out to get the male but was getting pummeled by the waves. Then he felt the rip current take him directly to the victim.

“There was divine intervention that day,” he said.

After he secured the second victim and was heading back, Navarre Beach Fire Rescue (NBFR) arrived with a Jet Ski and sled and secured the victim. All were brought safely to shore.

Captain Sean Hughes and firefighters Grant Winterberry and Chris Jines assisted in the rescue and Robinson said it was a team effort.

“Thank God they were right there with the Jet Ski… I kind of almost gave up halfway to him. I just kept getting pounded and pounded and pounded,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s background in lifeguarding helped prepare him for this moment. Back in 2000, he served as lifeguard for four summer seasons with the U.S Park Service.

He said this was the first time since he became a park ranger uniform that he had saved anyone in the water.

NBFR Chief Danny Fureigh held a ceremony for Robinson, presenting him with a Citizens Life Saving Award and a challenge coin April 14.

“Andrew Robinson, your quick reaction and willingness to help others in their time of need saved two lives,” Fureigh said. “Had you not chosen to take immediate and decisive action that young lady and man would have drowned.”

Hughes reminded the audience at the ceremony that the people that helped that day were not trained lifeguards but rose to the occasion.

“I know emergency response is our deal, but when you start dealing with the surf rescue, they’re not trained lifeguards, but their ability to perform is absolutely amazing,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he was surprised to see a park ranger out in the water that day.

“It’s probably not in (Robinson’s) job description, but he took action,” he said. “And because of that action he took, people are alive today.”

Firefighter Winterberry said when he swam out and he saw a smile on Robinson’s face. The first thing he said to the ranger when he got out there was “Good job, hero.”

Robinson said the two are happy to be alive and are still recovering. But they’re also looking to the future.

“I think he ended up proposing to her later that night,” he said.