The body of Thomas Zakrewski, 46, was found on Tuesday, hours after he disappeared into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico

By Dave Quinn
July 12, 2019 12:19 PM
Lee County Sheriff's Office

A Georgia father visiting southwest Florida with his family pulled his 8-year-old daughter to safety from a dangerous rip current in the Gulf of Mexico before he drowned to death on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

The body of Thomas Zakrewski, 46, was found Tuesday night, hours after he had gone missing in the treacherous tides.

According to a statement from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Zakrewski had been walking with his wife and daughter alongside a curved sandbar on the shore of Upper Captiva Island near Fort Meyers. 

His wife, walking ahead of her family, “glanced backward and discovered that her husband and 8-year-old child were struggling in the water,” authorities said.

Though she immediately “jumped into the water” to help, she was only able to grab her daughter, who was passed to her by her husband.

“Unfortunately, the father continued to struggle and disappeared into the water” around 5:38 p.m., the statement read. 

By approximately 9:54 p.m., a multi-agency search team called into action by the Marine Emergency Response Team — including the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit and Aviation Unit, the United States Coast Guard, the Florida Fish Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Sanibel and Captiva Fire Departments — were able to finally find Zakrewski’s body.

“Rough waters and considerable wind” hampered MERT’s efforts, authorities explained.

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Rip current deaths are common in Florida. Last year alone, 27 people drowned in the state’s currents, according to the National Weather Service. This year, 12 people (excluding Zakrewski) have died off Florida beaches in rip current deaths — nearly half of the 28 reported nationwide.

The National Weather Service had issued a rip current advisory along the beach where the family had been strolling on Tuesday.

RELATED VIDEO: Grieving Mom Aims to Save Other Children After 3-Year-Old Son Drowns

Said currents are not obvious to the naked eye, cautioned Lee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Russell Park. “Pay particular attention to areas around sandbars,” he told WBBH, per NBC News. “The water is coming in and it’s got to go out somewhere but you can’t always see it.”

“Wait until the conditions improve, don’t risk it,” Park added. “It’s not worth risking anybody’s life.”

Those who are caught in a rip current should swim parallel to shore, slowly moving back to land at an angle, the National Ocean Service advised.

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