TWO men have drowned and one remains missing after a group of six people went swimming at Moonee Beach, near Coffs Harbour, on Monday night.
About 6.15pm the group, including three juveniles, got into trouble in the surf.
Surf Life Saving NSW's State Operations Centre was notified about the situation at the unpatrolled beach about 6.20pm.
The swimmers were in distress and about 300m from the shore at the southern end of the beach.
Off-duty Coffs Harbour lifeguards responded, along with the Surf Life Saving North Coast duty officer and Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.
Lifeguards found six people in the water as they conducted the mass rescue with rescue boards.
Two men, aged 35 and 45, were removed from the water but were unable to be revived. A third man, aged 28, remains missing.
Two girls, aged 15 and 17, and a 15-year-old boy, were removed from the water.
They have been taken to Coffs Harbour Hospital for observation.
All six are believed to be known to each other and from Sydney.
A search operation was launched for the missing man however he has not been located. The search was suspended due to light and surf conditions.
It will resume on Tuesday morning.
Police Marine Area Command and Surf Life Saving assets, including jetskis, inflatable rescue boats and the SLSNW UAV team will be involved in the search.
Surf Life Saving NSW chief executive, Steven Pearce, said it was a "terrible tragedy".
"Our thoughts and hearts go out to the family of the victims and to the brave lifeguards that responded and tried valiantly to save everyone," he said.
"This terrible tragedy highlights the importance of swimming at patrolled locations and understanding how to identify rips and the dangers they present.
"An event like this unfolding so close to the festive season only magnifies the grief and devastation."
Officers from Coffs/Clarence Police District are investigating the incident and a report will be prepared for the Coroner.
Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000