Unsung Hero: Eagle Scout rescues group of swimmers caught in dangerous riptide

Luke Bazaldua, the hero who saved people from the riptide.

This is Unsung Heroes, a Bryan on Scouting blog series celebrating under-reported acts of Scouting heroism. These are stories that don’t make national headlines — but should. That’s doubly true in this world that can always use more good news. Read the latest story below, and find instructions for sharing your own Unsung Heroes story at the end of the post.


It was supposed to be a relaxing beach vacation — the summer’s final chance to spend time as a family before Luke Bazaldua returned to Baylor University for his sophomore year.

But on the second day of swimming with his brothers and sisters in the Gulf Coast waters near Panama City, Fla., Luke noticed something concerning.

He saw a group of people — perhaps 10 or 12 souls — had been pulled far from shore by the riptide. Several of the people were waving their arms, signaling their distress.

Without hesitating, Luke and his brothers, David and Joel, took action. Luke’s calm demeanor, leadership, and swimming ability saved several lives that day.

“Scouts taught me not to delay when there is a crisis,” Luke says. “It also gave me the crucial skills necessary to react with caution to ensure I don’t become another person who needs saving.”

For his bravery in the face of personal risk, Luke, an Eagle Scout from Troop 514 of Southlake, Texas, is our latest Unsung Hero.

Luke (center) with Austin (left) and Jeffrey.
Luke (center) with Austin (left) and Jeffrey.

How it happened

As soon as he realized what was happening, Luke sent his younger brother, Joel, back to shore to get help. Then Luke and David swam toward the group in distress, careful not to get too close and be pulled under themselves.

Why the hesitation? Because there’s a reason the recommended order for water rescues is “reach, throw, row, go.”

“Go,” which refers to physically approaching the victim, can potentially endanger an untrained rescuer. The victim, in their struggle to survive, could pull the rescuer underwater.

“Once I was finally able to assess the situation, the skills learned through my Swimming merit badge immediately came to mind and enabled me to be of assistance,” Luke says.

With a firmer grasp of the variables, Luke helped the first group get close enough to shore to touch the bottom. Then, remarkably, he returned to the depths to save more people.

“He went out to assist a second person who was totally exhausted but responsive,” says Paul Thrower, Luke’s Scoutmaster. “Luke slid his left arm under their arms and used his chest to support them as he swam with them back to shore.”

From shore, Luke could see that his younger brother’s efforts to get help had been successful. Three people — David, a lifeguard and another strong swimmer — had passed flotation devices to the six adults who remained.

But the crisis wasn’t over. Some of the stranded swimmers were exhausted from fighting the riptide and couldn’t muster the energy to swim back. So Luke returned to the scene for the third time.

“I wasn’t just going to turn away and make someone else aware of the situation when I knew there was something I could do right then and there,” Luke says.

The group locked arms and Luke, working as a team with his brother, the lifeguard, and the other strong swimmer, pulled the entire group back to shallow water. At the beach, EMT rescuers already were treating people.

“Luke said when he saw the first responders, he was so relieved that he just let them do their job,” Thrower says. “He lay down on the sand from the ordeal to catch his breath.”

Looking back on that day, Luke’s pretty humble about the whole thing.

“I saw there were people in need and I knew I had to do something,” he says.

So he won’t brag. That just means we’ll have to do it for him. Way to go, Luke!

What to do when caught in a riptide

Remember the following:

  1. Don’t fight the current.
  2. First, swim out of the current, parallel to the shore. Then swim to shore when you can.
  3. If you can’t escape, tread water or float to conserve energy.
  4. If you need help, call or wave toward the shore.

Further reading

Interested in improving your skills on this subject? You have several options:

Share your Unsung Heroes story

Stories like these brighten my day — especially because I know this kind of thing happens regularly in Scouting.

Here’s how to share the news of an Unsung Hero in your pack, troop or crew:

  1. Send an email to me with the subject line “Unsung Heroes.”
  2. Include a detailed summary of the heroic act.
  3. Include any “supporting documentation” you can. Examples include links to a story in your local newspaper, paperwork for a Scouting heroism award nomination or eyewitness accounts.
  4. Include high-res photos of the Unsung Hero.
About Bryan Wendell 2906 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.