Rene Padilla, 35, from Blue Island was overpowered by high waves, witnesses said, as he tried to save his daughter.
"She fell in and he jumped in after her and the girls told me right now, 'We watched him drown,'" said Roberto Spagnolo, Padilla's boss and friend. "They said he just went down. He was so strong, I don't know how he couldn't fight it."
Padilla, who wanted to spend one day with his two daughters before they went back to school next week, told Spagnolo that he wanted to take a rare day off from work because they always wanted to go to the beach. But Padilla found himself fighting overpowering waves.
"That's him, that's Rene," Spagnolo said. "It doesn't matter who it would have been. He would have been there. That's just how he is."
Padilla's family is struggling. His friend said he was their backbone.
"He cheated a little bit because he went right to heaven. You know he bypassed all these stops on the way," Spagnolo said. "I don't know what the world will be like without him, he was great."
The incident happened just before a beach hazard statement went into effect Thursday afternoon.
The beach hazard statement has been extended to Saturday morning for Cook and Lake counties in Illinois and Porter and Lake counties in Indiana. Officials warned people to stay out of the water and red flags flew at the beaches, a clear sign not to go in.
"If you are coming out to the beach today to enjoy yourselves, listen to the life guards, look for the red flags, listen to police officers and also monitor if there are barriers up, don't go up on the hooks or peninsulas. The waves and the wind conditions today are very dangerous," said Deputy District Chief Jason Lach.
The warning will remain in effect until 4 a.m. Saturday. Waves could be as high as 6 feet and there are dangerous rip currents.
"If you are caught up in a rip current, don't panic," said Zeyad Matlock, Chicago Police Department.
"Swim parallel and go back to shore."
Friday Lake Michigan's water level nearly broke the record from 1986, sitting at just over 581 feet. The high levels and high waves have led to a busy summer for the Coast Guard, who said they have had more than 100 search and water rescues around Chicago beaches since October.
The Chicago Triathlon is set for Sunday morning, and swimmers could end up battling high waves and strong winds.
"We are very aware of the swim advisory that is at most of the beaches here in the city," said Scott Hutmacher, Chicago Triathlon.
Organizers strapped on snorkel masks to manage the high water while installing ladders for the swimmers along the break wall Friday. For now the race is still on as planned. It's the casual beach goers and boaters rescuers worry could keep them busy this weekend.