Surf lifesaving callout teams from the Illawarra joined other emergency services at Port Kembla on Friday night, where three people died after being washed into the surf.
"Our hearts go out to the families of those who have died," Surf Life Saving NSW director of lifesaving Joel Wiseman said.
"Tragedies like this are sadly too familiar to our volunteer lifesavers and lifeguards and to lose three people in one incident is just horrendous.
"Rock fishing is very popular in this area, but sadly this location has seen numerous incidents and drownings over the years."
A major emergency response began about 10pm on Friday, responding to reports several people had been washed off rocks into the sea at Port Kembla.
Police were told by witnesses a group of men were standing on rocks near Hill 60 when a large wave hit them, knocking them into the surf.
The bodies of three men were recovered from the water a short time later.
While they are yet to be formally identified, police believe two of the men, aged in their forties, are from Green Valley, while a third man is believed to be aged 69 from Campsie.
The two men from Green Valley are members of the same family, but were not known to the 69-year-old.
"They are total strangers, they all came to the same location to enjoy the fishing," Lake Illawarra Police Acting Superintendent Gordon Dunlop said on Saturday morning.
Surf Life Saving callout teams from the Illawarra joined other emergency services at Port Kembla.
Illawarra Branch duty officers and the NSW Ambulance helicopter responded, along with police and Marine Area Command and the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter.
Reports that a fourth person was still missing was responded to by significant SLS assets on Saturday morning, including three jetskis, two inflatable rescue boats and volunteer lifesavers from Port Kembla Surf Life Saving Club.
Mr Wiseman said despite the best efforts of lifesavers and emergency services, the rescue operation has ended in tragedy.
"Lifesavers attended the scene quickly, along with assistance from the rescue helicopter and police, to try and locate the fishermen in the dark," Mr Wiseman said.
The Toll Ambulance helicopter winched two of the deceased from the water and police retrieved the third person.
SLSNSW CEO Steven Pearce attended the scene on Saturday morning to support the volunteer responders and said the conditions at the time were not ideal.
"The surf conditions have been hazardous throughout the week, which makes activities like rock fishing even more dangerous than usual," Mr Pearce said.
Mr Wiseman thanked the volunteers who have responded to callouts and the lifesavers who will be on the beach over the next few days, working to keep huge crowds of beach-goers safe from harm.
"Our condolences go out to the family and friends of the men who died last night, and we are extremely grateful for the efforts of lifesavers and emergency services who did what they could to help," he said.
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