A brave grandfather sacrificed his own life to save his wife and grandchildren from drowning in a lake.
George Vitetta, 65, and his wife Kathy had been watching the youngsters playing in the water on a sand bar before tragedy struck.
Five-year-old Ella was wearing a life jacket and had water just up to her knees when she fell from the bar and started to drift away.
Kathy called for Ella to swim back but she couldn’t as she was stuck in a deadly undercurrent, according to her family.
When Kathy reached her, the grandmother also fell into the water and got trapped in the current along with her eight-year-old grandson Lucas.
George, a retired engineer, jumped into the water and managed to push his wife and their grandchildren back to safety on the ridge of sand.
But moments later, he was overtaken by a wave and disappeared beneath the water at Lake Ontario in New York State.
A large rescue mission was launched by the US Coast Guard and State Police along with support from local fire departments.
Several hours later, a dive team found George’s body in the water and he died from accidental drowning, Syracuse.com reported.
George and Kathy, of Rotterdam, New York, had been babysitting their grandchildren when tragedy struck.
The couple decided to have a family day on their boat with George’s son Andrew Oak and daughter-in-law Whitney before the pair left town for a wedding.
They docked near North Sandy Pond to spend some time on the beach and let the children play in the water, according to his other son Gabriel.
The large bay is separated from Lake Ontario by the Sandy Son Beach Natural Area.
George and Kathy agreed to watch the grandchildren playing in the water while Andrew and Whitney set up the beach chairs and umbrellas.
But within five minutes, the were all struggling to survive the strong undercurrent in the water, Gabriel added.
Cathy Goodnough, who owns the nearby Greene Point Marina, told how the area can be dangerous due to strong currents and many drownings have taken place.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” she said.
“It’s like somebody’s pulling you out but no one’s there. There’s a massive current.”
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The family were allegedly not that far from the shore when they came into trouble but believe nobody could hear their cries for help, Gabriel said.
One woman on the beach saw what was happening and sent her two sons to help in a boat while swimming out to help Kathy and the children. But by that time, George had already been pulled under.
When the boat arrived, Kathy and the children grabbed onto the side along with the woman and they were all brought back to shore.
Gabriel added: “Thank God she saw them and she reacted or we probably would have lost them all. The lady said ‘the current is so bad through there sometimes, I do not know how any of them survived’.”
Cathy also stressed the strength of the current and warned that more people could have drowned.
“People were going out there to try to save him without life jackets and there could have been a lot more casualties,” she added.
Whitney called 911 from shore and the search for George got underway.
Rescue divers found him unresponsive in the water and brought him to paramedics on land but he had died, according to state police.
George was found underwater around 100ft from where he was last seen, according to his son Gabriel.
“We hoped my father was alive, that maybe he had got pushed farther out into the water or he was somewhere still alive,” he said.
“After the first hour we just wanted to make sure my father could come home and they found him,” he added.
George joined the military after high school and served for several years before receiving an honourable discharge, his family said.
He then worked as an engineer for the government before retiring aged 58 and becoming a pastor.
Gabriel said he did not just lose his father but his best friend, but expressed his sincere gratitude that he did not lose his niece, nephew and stepmom in the process.