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Dad who vanished saving three kids at popular Aussie beach 'a national hero'

Dan Cojocea was on holiday with his family and friends when the trip took a tragic turn.

A dad who vanished after saving the lives of three young children caught in a rip at a popular Aussie beach has been hailed as a “national hero”.

Dan Cojocea, 43, raced into the water at Mary Ellis Wreck Beach near Port Lincoln, South Australia, at about 4.30pm on Friday, when his two sons and best mate’s daughter swam out “a little bit too deep”. Sadly, his body was found just before 8.30am on Monday on a beach nearby, police confirmed to Yahoo News Australia.

Left, police at Mary Ellis Wreck Beach searching for Dan Cojocea. Right, Dan Cojocea smiling, wearing an orange shirt.
Dan Cojocea was on holiday with his family and friends at Mary Ellis Wreck Beach on Friday when he was pulled out to sea. Source: 9News

“Panicked” friend Riaan Grobler, who saw the horror unfold from the shore alongside Dan’s wife Alina and their two teenage daughters, has detailed the terrifying moment he watched the “gem of a man” put his own life at risk.

“He went in there without thinking and saved my daughter’s life … she told me she thought she was going to die,” he told Adelaide Now. “He just couldn’t save himself. He’s a national hero. He is my hero without a doubt.”

Dad pushes kids to safety

Riaan recalled how “everything just went pear-shaped” not long after the three kids entered the water. He said he tried to call them back close to the shore but the waves were so loud they couldn’t hear him.

“Dan very selflessly made his way towards the kids,” he said, adding he then ran to the top of a sand dune to call triple-0. “Somehow Dan got the kids out and he just encouraged them to keep swimming.”

Riaan, who is not a strong swimmer, said he was able to keep his eyes on Dan for two minutes but then “lost him”.

Left, Riaan Grobler with his young daughter who Dan Cojocea saved. Right Dan and Riaan Grobler stand on the beach.
Dan Cojocea's best mate Riaan Grobler (left with his daughter, right with Dan) watched the 43-year-old 'selflessly' race to save the kids. Source: 9News

Speaking to 9News, Riaan’s daughter said Dan “grabbed [her] by the arm”. “I tried to hold onto his shoulder, a big wave came and he pushed me,” she said.

All of the children were released from hospital on Sunday after being treated for hyperthermia and minor injuries. Police are preparing a report for the coroner.

Dan Cojocea with his wife Alina. Right, Alina at the beach as police search for her husband. Source: 9News
Dan’s wife of 18 years, Alina, attended the beach on Sunday morning with family members. Source: 9News

Missing dad's wife attends search

Dan’s wife of 18 years, Alina, attended the beach on Sunday morning with family members who travelled from across the country to help hunt for any sign of the beloved father.

His sister Camelia Cantell spoke to reporters from the beachside on Saturday and said the family were still holding onto the hope for a “one-in-a-million miracle” that he would be found alive.

“We still hold out the highest hope and we believe in amazing miracles and until there’s a resolution, until we find him then we are hoping for a one-in-a-million miracle, that can be him” she said. “Maybe one day he’ll just laugh about his adventures, he likes to tell a good story.”

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