CHICAGO (CBS) — A dream vacation ended in tragedy for a man from suburban Chicago.

23-year-old Liviu Ciupercicu drowned trying to save his girlfriend in the waters off Honolulu after she ran into trouble on the slippery rocks.

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CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez spoke with the young man’s family.

“As soon as she called out for help, my little brother — without hesitation, he jumped into the water,” said Peter Ciupercicu, the victim’s brother. “He did as much as he could to push her as close as he could to that shoreline.”

While she was rescued, Liviu did not make it out of the water in time. Rescue crews could be seen desperately trying to revive him with no success.

“It didn’t surprise me that he would risk his life to save someone else’s life, it didn’t surprise me at all. He had a heart of gold,” Peter said.

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Peter added that Liviu loved his family, the outdoors, and added that he was a very strong swimmer. “But when you’re fighting waves in the ocean like that — you can’t beat mother nature.”

Peter said he is worried about the 19-year-old girlfriend left behind, saying, “it’s something that I think is going to weigh heavy on her. And I hope that she can move past it, and I hope she doesn’t blame herself in any way.”

It’s a painful loss, but the older Ciupercicu says he’s proud of his brother.

“My little brother died a hero. That makes me happy and it gives me peace in my heart.”

Peter says Liviu planned to become a nurse or a firefighter so he could help people.

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He will be remembered at a wake Friday in Chicago.