Rescuers helped pull members of a South Carolina family from their minivan after it became submerged in the surf on Daytona Beach on Tuesday afternoon.
Onlookers pulled three children -- ages 5, 7 and 10 -- from the vehicle, which was being buffeted by waves as it drifted deeper into the ocean about 5 p.m.. The woman driving the van escaped unharmed.
Beach Safety Capt. Tammy Marris says the woman was already driving on the beach, where cars are allowed. It's not clear how the vehicle ended up in the water. The family was taken to Halifax Health Medical Center for treatment. Their vehicle was towed.
A tourist from Montreal, Simon Besner, captured the terrifying ordeal on video, and Taylor Quintin, visiting Central Florida from Vermont, saw the whole thing from the balcony of her hotel room.
"My friend pointed out that there was a car getting really close to the beach and actually started driving on the water," Quintin told WKMG-TV. "I saw a kid in the back waiving his arms around screaming, 'Help us! Help us!' And the car kept going deeper."
Quintin said three bystanders quickly jumped into action.
"That's when I saw a guy from the beach run over next to the car and take out two small children and walk them back up," Quintin said.
At one point in the video, the mother in the driver's seat hops out through a window and walks toward the shore. Bystanders and a lifeguard continued to search the back of the van while waves came over the car.
"Another guy ran out and brought a little toddler out of the car," said Quintin.
The man carried the child back to shore, saving the child's life.
Volusia County Beach Patrol and the Florida Department of Children and Families are investigating the circumstances, but people who saw the incident, including Donna Pratt, can't believe it was accidental.
"When she first was drifting into the ocean, we thought maybe an accident," Pratt told Local 6. "But when the bystanders went to help, she clearly went deeper into the ocean. She drove right toward it, so it's hard to believe it was an accident."
A DCF official said the agency is looking into any past cases of child neglect or abuse.