A man is clinging to life after he was pulled unconscious from the ocean south of Sandon Point.
Fellow beachgoers found the man floating face-down about 500 metres outside of the patrolled area, about 11.10am Saturday.
The 48-year-old man, is believed to have been visiting the area from Western Sydney when he entered the water unaccompanied.
An off-duty nurse and an RFS volunteer, Tyler Stanton, led early unsuccessful efforts to revive him. He was later rushed to Wollongong Hospital, where he remains in a critical condition.
Mr Stanton said he noticed a group of people urging their children to “get out of the water” in the moments before he saw the unconscious man and helped to pull him from the water.
“I saw that his face was blue and there were signs of no air through his system,” said Mr Stanton, 27. “I worked on him for 10 minutes. He wasn’t responding at all.”
“I’m sad to say there were kids who witnessed it. The whole beach was watching and people were actually going up to other people to see if they were OK.
“I just hope he's OK. I hope he lives. I hope nothing but the best for him and his family, and hope everything will be back to normal when he's revived.
“It’s a long time to be [unconscious]. The sooner [revived] the better. There is less damage done if you apply first aid a lot sooner.”
Jason Foye, beach services coordinator at Wollongong City Council, said witness accounts suggested 5-10 minutes passed between the man entering the water and the discovery of his lifeless body.
On-duty surf lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers gave him oxygen and applied a defibrillator for more than 10 minutes before he was placed in the care of arriving paramedics.
It is unclear if he suffered a medical episode in the water.
Mr Foye said the man was swimming in calm waters 400-500 metres south and 800 metres north of patrolled areas at Sandon Point and Bulli Beach, respectively, when he got into trouble.
“It’s really quite calm and safe conditions today – we don’t have any significant swell and that section of the coast is quite sheltered,” he said.
“It’s a timely reminder for people just to take that extra time and head down to the patrolled areas.
“The ocean is a dynamic environment and things can happen very quickly. That’s why it’s always best to swim between those red and yellow flags. It doesn’t matter how safe it may appear – it is a beach.”
A rescue chopper landed at Bulli Park, opposite the beach, but the man was ultimately taken by road ambulance to hospital.
The emergency came on a weekend of crowded beaches, with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting top temperatures of 34 and 40 degrees in the Illawarra. Temperatures, and beach crowds were tipped to peak on Sunday.
Officers from Wollongong Local Area Command are investigating the incident and would like to speak to those bystanders who assisted the man from the water.
Contact Wollongong Police or Crime Stoppers (1800 333 000) to assist.