VILANO BEACH, Fla. — Justin Hayes could feel the seconds go by as he stampeded over shallow water on a sandbar at Vilano Beach two weekends ago.
The Jacksonville Beach man says he raced into the water to help save a boy who was drowning.
"A woman just walked up next to me and asked are they okay?" Hayes said.
"I just perked up and looked at the horizon...and that's when I instantly saw one boy flailing his arms and you could just see his head bobbing up and down. I know it sounds crazy, but it's almost something you would see in the movies," Hayes said.
Hayes, who was watching his two kids at the edge of the beach, says he immediately ran into the water with another man to help.
"As we began getting close enough to him we could actually hear him and you could hear him in a terrified voice all he was saying, he just kept repeating please, please, please, that's all he was saying until we got to him," Hayes said.
By the time Hayes got to the boy he says he noticed two other boys struggling as well. At that point, 100 yards from shore, the situation had turned dire for the boys and Hayes.
"I got to the boy first and when I first got to him he immediately kind of grabbed my left bicep and kind of around my wrist and forearm area," Hayes said.
"I think he just saw me as a flotation device thinking he could just rest because I'm sure he was exhausted, fatigued he essentially just stopped swimming and we both instantly went underwater," Hayes said.
Hayes said he and the boy eventually came back from under the water, but both were out of energy and needed to be saved. Thankfully, a jetskier was nearby watching the entire rescue attempt unfold.
"We were able to hold onto those handles and just literally dangle in the water like a wet ramen noodle in boiling water just kind of flopping around as he pulled us into the sandbar," Hayes said.
Hayes said the jetskier pulled the three boys, him and the other man safely to shore. By the time he was back on shore, Hayes was too exhausted to thank the jetskier as he was already back in the water.
"This guy without a doubt saved those three children and I'm very confident that he also saved my life. Me, my family, my mother would like to thank him from the bottom of our hearts," Hayes said.
Days after the ordeal and reflecting on his near-death experience, Hayes said he'll think twice before putting himself in a situation like that again.
"If you're going to try to save somebody that's really offshore and you're not a great swimmer, you definitely need a flotation device for sure," Hayes said.