A staff sergeant in the Puerto Rico Army National Guard died while trying to save a swimmer caught in the currents off Condado Beach in San Juan.

Staff Sgt. Fidel Cruz-Llanos’ body was found almost three miles from the spot where he left his family to swim out to help a swimmer struggling in rough ocean conditions. The man that Cruz-Lanos was attempting to help also drowned.

Cruz-Llanos’ act of bravery “characterizes the members of our organization and the great heart of Puerto Ricans,” said Army Maj. Gen. Miguel Méndez, the adjutant general of Puerto Rico.

“Fidel jumped into the sea to try to save the life of another, putting his own at risk, demonstrating that Selfless Service, Duty, and Personal Courage do not stay with the uniform, but are carried with us wherever we go and wherever we go, at all times,” Méndez said in a statement.

On Sunday, Cruz-Llanos, 34, was enjoying a day at the beach with his two children when he saw that Charles Victor Daniel Poor, 20, from Moline, Illinois, was in distress about 100 yards from shore, defense and Coast Guard officials said.

His children said that he took off his shirt and a necklace, crossed himself, and dove into the water to try to rescue Poor, according to local media.

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A 911 caller first alerted authorities that Poor was in danger around 6:28 p.m., said Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad. It was getting dark at the time, complicating search efforts.

Sea states around Puerto Rico have been rough recently, with waves reported to be up to 10-feet high, Castrodad told Task & Purpose. In addition to Cruz-Llanos and Poor, a third swimmer drowned on Wednesday, he said.

“The problem is that many of the beaches in Puerto Rico are not enclosed, protected beaches,” Castrodad said. “They are open-water beaches. Once you’re out a couple yards, you’re subject to the rip currents and any other tides that can push you out and prevent you from coming back in, especially if you’re not an experienced swimmer that knows how to get out of a rip current. You can get into trouble pretty quickly.”

Cruz-Llanos was last seen about 80 yards from shore, when he went underwater and didn’t resurface, according to the Coast Guard. His body was later recovered about three nautical miles north of the La Concha hotel in Condado.

The Coast Guard recovered Poor’s body on Sunday, Castrodad said.

Search efforts for both men involved Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters from Air Station Borinquen; a 33-foot Special Purpose Craft- Law Enforcement boat from Station San Juan; San Juan Office of Emergency Management; Puerto Rico Emergency Management Bureau; Puerto Rico National Guard; Puerto Rico Joint Forces of Rapid Action; and Puerto Rico Emergency Medical Services, according to the Coast Guard.

“Today is a sad day for the G4 family,” said Lt. Col. Juan “Jay” Rodriguez, Logistics Management Officer/G4. “We are sorry for the passing of one of our finest Soldiers understanding that he made the ultimate sacrifice intending to save another life. Staff Sgt. Fidel Cruz served his country with pride and his selfless service will always be remembered by his co-workers and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Cruz-Llanos family. We stand ready to support his family in this difficult moment.”

Cruz-Llanos was assigned to the 295th Quartermaster Field Feeding Platoon, 191st Regional Support Group of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard.

His platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Zamia López, described him as “a valued and respected member of our team.”

“His dedication and bravery inspire all of us who had the honor of serving alongside him,” Lopez said. “We are here to offer our unconditional support to his family. May they find comfort in the shared memories and in the legacy of bravery he leaves behind. His sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

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