MAUI, Hawaii -- A week ago, the Van Briesen family departed Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for their first-ever trip to Hawaii.
But their summer vacation took a tragic turn Saturday when the mother died following a freak accident in the ocean.
Wendi Van Briesen, a Southwest flight attendant, was bodysurfing with her 13-year-old son when a wave took her under.
"I don't know if she hit her head or it was whiplash. Nobody knows what happened under that wave," sister-in-law Lindsey Van Briesen told 3TV via Skype Saturday.
Aaron Van Briesen, Wendi's husband and a Gilbert school teacher, quickly pulled her out of the water and began CPR.
She was rushed to a hospital, and extended family members arriving in Maui that day went straight to her bedside. She never regained consciousness.
"She broke her C1 and C2 vertebrae. She was in a coma and on life support until this morning when she passed away," Lindsey Van Briesen said.
The mother's 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter saw the accident.
"It's been awful. Luckily, they are so strong," Lindsey Van Briesen said.
The family was supposed to head to Kaui Sunday for the rest of their vacation but instead booked flights home to Gilbert to plan the funeral.
"You go to Hawaii on a family vacation for the first time and you don't expect to leave not whole," Lindsey Van Briesen said. "We come with everybody and we're leaving one behind. It's been hard for everybody."
A GoFundMe page that was created while Wendi Van Briesen was on life support has raised more than $34,000.
"She was friends with everybody," Lindsey Van Briesen said. "She had the biggest smile on her face, always laughing, dancing, and just having a great time. She loved her children."