Tony Jackson Jr. was on vacation swimming with friends when a strong current pulled him under.
WSB-TV's Michael Seiden spoke with Jackson's friend, Muhammad Qasim, who was at the beach with him and witnessed the accident.
Qasim told Seiden that just before they planned to leave, Jackson had turned back in the water to try to save a child who had fallen off a float.
“I was right next to him in the water, but when he tried to go toward the kid and the wave hit him, the wave just dragged him back 10 feet," Qasim said. "There was nothing I could’ve done.”
Rescue crews recovered his body two hours later.
Jackson's family is now trying to raise enough money to fly his body back to Georgia so they can bury him. They say it will cost around $1,700.
“The main thing is to just get him home; that’s the biggest thing," said Jackson's mother, Latanisha.
>> GoFundMe to bring Tony Jackson's body home
She hopes the public will step up to help. The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover the expenses. They hope to raise $10,000 to pay for transportation and funeral arrangements.
In the meantime, the family is remembering a man who they believe risked his life to help a complete stranger.
“He had a big heart. He would do anything for anybody,” Latanisha told Seiden.
>> Read more trending news
“He was a hard worker and he would do anything," Qasim said. "He would literally give the shirt off his back for anybody.”
Qasim says there was no warning posted about dangerous conditions in the water. A spokesman for the Panama City Beach Police said red flags were flying before the drowning, warning swimmers not to get in.
Qasim says that isn't true.
Click here to help the family.