Man drowns at Playalinda Beach trying to save 10-year-old from rip current

'We took him out to have a good time and we lost him'

PLAYALINDA BEACH, Fla. – Emerald green waters that look so inviting to beachgoers at Playalinda Beach brought pain to a Central Florida family on Monday.

Nelson Robles and his family, including his daughter's boyfriend, 24-year-old Jonathan Romero, went to the Brevard County beach Monday for a day of fun. They weren't even there for an hour when it happened.

"It can happen at any moment. Unexpected. We had just got to the beach," Robles said. "I felt powerless."

Robles said his 10-year-old son, Johnny, wanted to play in the water, and Romero followed him in.

Johnny later said he and Romero were playing in the water when he asked Romero to throw him in. Not wanting to hit his head in shallow water, the two ventured out a bit farther into the ocean. Next, the current had a hold of him.

"I didn't think it was going to be that far away where I can't swim or anything," Johnny Robles said. "The current just pulled me more out in the ocean and I started to scream for Jonathan."

Nelson Robles and his daughter heard the screams and rushed to help, but they said the rip currents were too strong.

"The waves were really high. I couldn't get to them. I tried and I tried. My legs began to give out. I began screaming for help and I just couldn't do it," Nelson said. "There was even a pregnant lady with a life saver, and God bless her soul, she was trying to help out too. She threw the life saver at me so I could try to make my way out to them."

Jonathan's girlfriend, Lidia Sanchez, was able to make it to him, but by the time she got to him he was unresponsive.

"I tried to swim towards him and by the time I got to him, he was laying on his stomach with his face underwater. I grabbed him and I tried to pick him up and I tried to swim with him to shore. He was so heavy," Sanchez said.
A surfer and paddleboarder helped bring everyone on shore, but Nelson said it was too late for Romero.

"Just the thought of losing my kid, I can't bear that, or my daughter, and knowing that a mother lost her son now is weighing on us, because we took him out to have a good time and we lost him," Robles said.

Robles has started a Gofundme page to help with funeral expenses. He said Romero lived with his mom and helped support the family.

[Related: How to escape a rip current]

Brevard County Ocean Rescue Chief Eisen Witcher said Hurricane Florence is causing higher waves and even more dangerous rip currents as it nears landfall.

"We do expect to peak tomorrow afternoon. We are expecting to see 6-to-8-foot-plus (waves) while on our beaches and obviously rip currents that follow afterwards," Witcher said.

Over the weekend in neighboring Volusia County, One person drowned and two others were injured in rough surf.