By CRAIG McTEAR
FAST forward a few hours, and a tourist at Park Beach would probably be dead.
The man, aged 18 to 20, was in the water with two mates when he was dragged out by a lethal rip about 2.15pm yesterday.
One of the man's companions sprinted 700 metres south down the beach to get help from the Coffs Harbour Surf Club patrol, which was nearing the end of its final patrol for the season.
Lifesavers hurtled back up the beach and jumped into the water with their rescue tubes, and others on an IRB sped to the spot where the man was last seen.
Water police also rushed to the area.
Col McEntyre was one of the IRB crew who searched frantically for the man at the back of the rip, some 400 metres offshore.
"We were there five or six minutes before he bobbed out of the water. He was exhausted," Col said.
"One of the crew had to hop in and put a float around him, and I pulled them in one at a time.
"He's a lucky bloke. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. It shows inexperience to go swimming in the middle of a rip."
Ambulance officers took the man to Coffs Harbour Health Campus, where his condition was listed as 'very stable' late yesterday. He spent the night under observation, and is expected to be released today.