A man and a teenage girl were flown to hospital on the Central Coast after five swimmers narrowly avoided tragedy on New Year's Day after being caught in a rip.
The group had been swimming about 1km south of the flags at the popular Birubi Beach in Port Stephens about 5pm on Monday when they found themselves in trouble.
NSW Surf Life Saving duty officer Glen Dunkley said luck had been on the swimmers' side.
He said it was lucky a group of local surfers spotted the distressed swimmers in the water and were experienced enough to phone triple-0 and help pull them from the water.
Luckier still was that surf life savers were still on the beach. They were packing up for the day when the call to help came in at 5.05pm.
Beach patrols end at 5pm.
Mr Dunkley said two people were pulled out of the water in a serious condition. Both were unconscious when they were helped onto the beach.
The other three were in distress but not otherwise injured.
Mr Dunkley said there was no doubt that the surfers who pulled the five swimmers from the water and Birubi Point surf life savers who provided immediate assistance had saved their lives.
"Surf life savers from Birubi surf club did an amazing job to stabilise them until the ambulance and other emergency services arrived," Mr Dunkley said.
"They undoubtedly saved two lives with their actions.
"It could have easily been a much worse outcome without the actions of these lifesavers."
Surf life savers from the Birubi Point club provided treatment for near drowning on the beach while waiting for ambulances and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter to arrive.
The helicopter transported a 27-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl to John Hunter Hospital for observation.
They were both reported to be in a stable condition.
The Port Stephens incident comes after a 30-year-old man was caught in a rip and drowned at Frazer Beach on the Central Coast on New Year's Eve.
Mr Dunkley said it was important that beach-goers swim between the flags and knew their limitations.
"Even flat surf can be dangerous," he said.
"If you're unsure of how to swim, then don't risk it. Know your limitations and swim between the flags and at patrolled beaches."