When Abigail Zuehlke saw the three young men floundering in a rip current off of Hunting Island State Park, she handed her 9-month-old baby to her husband, gave him a kiss, and waded into the surf.
Zuehlke, a 30-year-old from Virginia, insists she's no hero. She credits beach-goers for catching on to the boys' plight, and she thanks her husband for trusting her as she swam into the choppy waves.
She simply reacted the way any former Marine and high-school lifeguard would.
The young men, though, don't quite see it that way.
Joe Chestner, 21, likens Zuehlke to a guardian angel.
What if she hadn't come to their rescue this past Friday?
"I think I wouldn't have survived," said Brandon Santiago, 18. "I think my brother would have, and Joe would have. But I don't think I would have."
RIP CURRENT RESCUE
The day ended in an ambulance ride, but it began in celebration.
Daniel Santiago, 20, graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island earlier Friday. Family and friends, including brother Brandon and friend Joe Chestner, were visiting from Pennsylvania.
At about 5 p.m., the three were swimming off the beach at Hunting Island when they were caught in a rip current, a fast-moving channel of water that tugs swimmers away from the shore.
Chestner said Brandon, the weakest swimmer of the three, began to have trouble.
"We were just enjoying the waves and stuff, and then all of a sudden he needed help," Chestner said. "We attempted to hold him and try to swim towards shore, and we realized we were going nowhere."
They fought the current and yelled for help, but they were too far from the beach, and strong winds carried their voices out to sea.
After about 10 minutes, Chestner swam away to get help, breaking free of the rushing water. Rip currents tend to be narrow and usually can be escaped by swimming parallel to the beach.
Meanwhile, anxiety grew among those watching from the beach as the men struggled.
Zuehlke, her husband and their two children had just visited the park's lighthouse with friends and fellow Virginians who were visiting family on Fripp Island: Tim Glas, his wife and their children. She remembers the ominous mood on the beach as they walked toward the water.
For a few minutes, they assessed the situation. It wasn't clear to anyone, even when Zuehlke went in, how bad things really were.
"I didn't take it seriously until I was out to the first swimmer, even," Zuehlke said. "He was really in the first stage of drowning, is how I would assess it."
From that point, details blur, and stories begin to contradict.
Zuehlke towed Brandon in and handed him off to Glas halfway to shore. At some point, park rangers arrived, and some combination of rescuers helped bring Daniel back to dry ground.
The three men were treated by EMS workers. Brandon was taken by ambulance to Beaufort Memorial Hospital because he had ingested so much saltwater. But everyone was, more or less, OK.
For that, they credit Zuehlke's quick action.
"If she wouldn't have been there -- I don't know," Chestner said. "I call her, like an angel, I guess."
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.