WHAT was described by one local as a "perfect Byron Bay day" turned to tragedy yesterday when two men drowned at Main Beach.
The men, aged 26 and 28, were believed to be Indian students on holiday from studies in Brisbane.
Shortly after 1pm, on-duty lifesavers were notified by beachgoers that a person was caught in a rip and in difficulty at an unpatrolled area off a breakwall known as the groyne opposite the Byron Bay Swimming Pool.
A number of lifesavers responded with a rescue boat, boards and tubes and were able to rescue the man.
However, following the rescue, lifesavers were alerted that two other men were in the water and missing.
A search for the men revealed them submerged and not breathing.
Following efforts to resuscitate the men they were transported in a critical condition by NSW Ambulance paramedics to Byron District Hospital where they were pronounced dead.
English tourists Frankie Jackson-Spence and Lisa Butler witnessed the men being pulled from the water and the efforts to resuscitate them.
It was a stark lesson for the pair about the dangers of Australian beaches and the need to swim in patrolled areas between the flags.
"We were just sunbathing then everyone jumped up to see the lifeguards dragging someone in from the water and resuscitating them," Miss Jackson-Spence said.
"We didn't see anyone in the water, but the boat went out and brought someone back.
"A few minutes later a boat shot out from the other side of the bay and rescued another person."
Ms Butler praised the efforts of the lifesavers.
"The rescue team were amazing; they were so fast, I have never seen anyone move so quickly. We couldn't believe how amazing they were," she said.
Glen Webster is a regular visitor to Byron Bay and surfer at Main Beach.
He said the conditions were smooth when the drownings occurred but he has seen experienced swimmers get into trouble at the location before.
"There is a dominant rip that runs across the rocks here," he said.
"Quite often people panic in there and swim against it and consequently they drain their energy.
"I do see surfers jumping in there occasionally and saving people.
"But it was quite smooth, you wouldn't expect it to happen."
Surf Life Saving duty officer Jimmy Keough said the drownings highlighted the danger of swimming at unpatrolled areas of a beach.
"A short walk to the patrolled area would have certainly prevented this tragic loss of life," Mr Keough said.
"Despite the tragic outcome, the volunteer lifesavers should be commended for an exceptional performance and effort.
"They saved one life and did everything they could to save the other two."
Two Korean tourists were rescued in the same area in February.