FORT MORGAN, Ala. (WKRG) — In just minutes, it happened off Buchanan Court East, near the tip of Fort Morgan. What had been a peaceful day on the beach suddenly turned into a life-and-death struggle.

“I looked at him and looked back and they was hollering dial 911,” says Carl Moore, who helped in the rescue attempt. “Then they were trying to drag him out of the water and I ran down and helped them.”

The swimmer, 63-year-old James Campbell was vacationing from Athens, Ala.

He had been about 50 yards from the beach, according to witness Lando Weems, moments earlier had given the thumbs-up signal to friends onshore. “He was in standing water but the surf was so high one wave beat you after the other and you’re going to be full of water.”

Beachgoers jumped into action until first responders arrived, according to Weems. “We did all we could to keep try to keep everything pumping till they got here.”

Red flags are flying along most Alabama beaches but not here in Fort Morgan. There is no flag system here. There are no lifeguards. “You just definitely need to use your common sense,” says Capt. Clint Cadenhead with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. “If you don’t think it’s safe, then don’t do it.”

A family is now mourning the loss of a loved one and those who witnessed that loss are struggling too. “It makes you feel sad and helpless that we couldn’t do more for him,” says Moore. “We tried.”

Surf conditions are expected to remain dangerously rough over the next several days.