Jeremy Lee Crandall, 31, of Hubert, was trying to rescue a father and his 14-year-old son, Emerald Isle Police Lt. Jeff Waters said Tuesday. The father got a cramp and his son was trying to help him. The son soon found himself struggling too.
"(Crandall) gave the surf board to one of them, not the little boy. He was about 10 yards from the father and, apparently at that time, that's when Jeremy got in trouble," Waters said.
Investigators believe Crandall got a cramp and went under the water. The father and son made it to shore safely.
Crandall was pronounced dead at Carteret General Hospital after being pulled from the water along the beach, authorities said.
"He's a hero," Waters said of Crandall.
Crandall's fiancee, Jessica Lakes, was on the beach with his two daughters – aged 2 and 5 – when he drowned.
"I heard screaming. When I ran out there, I couldn't find him," she said.
Family members said Crandall survived a serious car wreck about a year ago. They said Crandall felt like God had given him a second chance.
"He was a very loving and giving person, without a moment's hesitation. If he had to make that choice over again, he would," she said.
Crandall, who was originally from Michigan, had recently started his own painting business.
The family of the father and son he saved have been in contact with Crandall's family to express their gratitude and shared grief.
Police say two Marines jumped into the water and tried to save Crandall, but were unsuccessful.