SHAKOPEE, Minn. (KMSP) - A summer family vacation has ended in tragedy for a Shakopee dad and business owner. He drowned in the Gulf of Mexico while trying to rescue a family member in extremely rough seas.
Dmitriy Bondarenko lost his life off the coast of Panama City Beach, Florida.
The 39-year-old dove into rough seas on Wednesday to help a family member, who was struggling in the water.
Officials had issued "double red flag warnings" meaning swimming was too risky.
But his loved ones say Bondarenko had a giant heart and would never hesitate to help someone in the face of grave danger.
The U.S. Coast Guard helped recover the body after a frantic 24-hour search.
“It's totally in his character. He would do this naturally. It would flow out of him. He loved people,” said Bondarenko's sister Natalia Sidorov.
"He was the pillar of our family, really our community. He would help any of the children who needed help or direction - almost give them fatherly advice," said Kristina Spangberg, his niece.
Bondarenko leaves behind a wife, three children and a grandchild.
“I allow myself to cry even though I know he is in a better place. But I allow myself to cry. I want to cry for him,” said Sidorov, holding back tears.
A funeral is scheduled for Saturday, August 20 at Slavic Baptist Church in Shakopee where Bondarenko often hosted weddings for the Russian immigrant community, a role that made him well known in local circles. He also owned and operated King Kraft Painting in Shakopee.
Just a day before he drowned, Bondarenko had dove into the same violent waters to rescue someone else.
A GoFundMe page set up to help with expenses has raised more than $40,000 in less than 24 hours.