The rain was growing heavier, and the wind and swell were rising when Sergeant Nick Park reached Port Kembla's Hill 60 on Friday evening.
The Lake Illawarra Highway Patrol officer was among the first officers on scene after emergency services received reports of people being swept off the rock platform, where three men had died just three weeks prior.
Sergeant Park said it was clear a serious emergency was taking place, so decisions had to be made quickly.
He had two officers stay on shore and act as a communication point, while he approached the water's edge.
"There was at least one person floating some distance offshore, he appeared to be getting further and further away from the shore ... I was concerned whether he was conscious," Sergeant Park said.
"He appeared to be holding onto a life ring, but I wasn't sure if he was able to hold onto that, and the weather was getting darker, so it was a concern he might drift out of sight.
"So I made the decision to jump in the water and swim out to him, try to prevent him going further out, and hopefully to be able to bring him in."
He said he did not think of think of the dangers to himself, because he was propelled by adrenaline and his police training.
"At the time, you just think of the task that you've got to do and you just focus on that, and your anxiety around that is fairly low," Sergeant Park said.
Sergeant Park spent an estimated 15 to 20 minutes in the water, until life savers picked him and two fishers up in a rescue boat.
Tragically, one of the men Sergeant Park reached in the water died at the scene.
The other was hospitalised and later discharged, but a third man, who was winched from the water by the Toll helicopter, died in hospital.
Sergeant Park said it was "extremely distressing" to know two people did not survive the incident.
He said a member of the public who also entered the water was a hero.
"He's jumped in, he didn't have all the support around him like the police did, I had plenty of people around me and I knew I had help close by - he didn't have that," Sergeant Park said.
"And yet he's risked his own life and gone in, jumped in the water in really difficult circumstances to try and preserve a life.
"He didn't get paid for that, he's just jumped in and done that, so I take my hat off to him and he really should be congratulated."
Lake Illawarra Police District Commander, Superintendent Dean Smith, said he was "always proud" of his officers.
He commended those who responded on Friday for their swift response and their professionalism, and extended his praise to the other rescue agencies, saying police "could not do it alone".
Sergeant Park grew up on Sydney's Northern Beaches and said his time in Nippers and with Surf Life Saving "no doubt" contributed to his quick decision to enter the water.
He asked people living or visiting the coast to ensure they and their children knew how to swim in the ocean.
He also urged rock fishers to wear a life jacket, and listen to the locals - if they advised staying away from the water, don't do it.
Two other police officers were injured when they knocked over by a wave on Friday evening.
One sustained a wrist injury and was back at work on Sunday, while the other remains off work while they recover from a hip injury.
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.