Volusia County beach officials say a young man died after dashing into a roiling surf to help a family struggling against a rip current.
Deltrome Gomilla, 21, who had recently moved to the Daytona Beach area from hurricane-hit Punta Gorda, died shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday, likely of drowning, said Beach Patrol Deputy Chief Joe Wooden.
Terrance Szafraniec, the father of the family Gomilla dashed in to help, said he, in turn, tried as hard "as humanly possible" to save Gomilla. But Szafraniec, 28, said that just as he was about to reach Gomilla, a wave came up and dragged the stranger out to sea.
"It was the last I saw of him as I held on to my 9-year-old son," said Szafraniec.
Szafraniec, recently with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, was with his wife, Shelley, and their 7-, 9- and 10-year-old sons and a sister and brother-in-law. It was Shelley Szafraniec's first day off from long days as spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, helping victims of hurricanes Charley and Frances.
As the family was playing in waist-deep water "a wave came in and we all jumped and were having some fun, but when it went out, all of a sudden there was no bottom and I found myself with water over my head," Terrance Szafraniec said.
The group of seven suddenly had to fight for their lives. "We were drowning; my family and I were dying," said a shaking and tearful Shelley Szafraniec. "This good Samaritan jumped in to save us, and oh God, he did not make it."
There are no lifeguards in that stretch of beach, Wooden said. "He lost everything he owned to Hurricane Charley and had moved his fiancee and 2-month-old here to overcome his trauma," Wooden said of Gomilla.