Georgia Dad Saves 8-Year-Old From Drowning -- Moments Before Being Drowned Himself

@evangelinemezzanotte/Twenty20

Sign on beach warns of strong currents
@evangelinemezzanotte/Twenty20

It was a heart-pounding moment that would terrify any parent: Thomas Zakrewski saw his daughter struggling to stay above water as she swam in the ocean off the coast of Florida. He ran in after her, and managed to save the 8-year-old from the water's currents before passing her off to his wife. But in mere seconds, Zakrewski was sucked underwater himself, drowning as his horrified wife and daughter looked on.

  • The tragic accident happened on Tuesday, while the family was on vacation at Upper Captiva Island, near Fort Meyers, Florida.

    CNN reports that Zakrewski, 46, and his family had traveled to the Sunshine State from their home in Georgia, and were happily walking along a sandbar just moments before. 

    His wife, who has not been named in the media, was reportedly walking in front of her husband and daughter when she glanced back to see both her husband and daughter struggling in the water. 

    "Immediately, the mother jumped into the water and the father managed to pass the child to her," a statement from the sheriff's department reported. "Unfortunately, the father continued to struggle and disappeared into the water."

  • Advertisement
  • The terrifying scene unfolded in just minutes, but it would take rescuers hours before they finally recovered Zakrewski's body from the rough waters.

    In that time, the sheriff's office reportedly deployed its marine and aviation units to search for the missing father, but that additional crews from the US Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Sanibel and Captiva fire departments, were also called in.

    Though rough waters and intense wind prolonged their efforts, Zakrewski's body was finally recovered at 9:54 p.m.

  • While they seem like the perfect place to take a beachy stroll or stop and look out at the water, sandbars do pose risks.

    Lee County Sheriff's Sgt. Russell Park told WBBH that they often mask strong rip currents that aren't apparent to the naked eye

    "Pay particular attention to areas around sandbars," Park told the outlet. "The water is coming in and it's got to go out somewhere but you can't always see it."

  • In fact, there was a rip current advisory in effect on Tuesday, in the exact spot the family had been walking, the National Weather Service reports.

    And those warning signs shouldn't be taken lightly, officials note. The NWS reports that rip current deaths account for the majority of surf fatalities in state of Florida, with 27 people drowning in the state in 2018. So far this year, 13 have been recorded in Florida alone, including Zakrewski's.

    Swimmers who suddenly find themselves caught in a rip current are urged to swim parallel to the shore and back to land at an angle, the National Ocean Service advises. Many make the mistake of trying to swim straight through the current, which can lead to fatigue and drowning.

    But if you're aware of rip tide warnings, just stay out of the water completely. 

    "Wait until the conditions improve, don't risk it," Park told WBBH. "It's not worth risking anybody's life."