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The three young men caught in a "strong unforgiving rip" on Auckland's notorious Piha Beach were wearing jeans and totally unaware of the danger they were in.
Two of the men, identified by police last night as Bhawandeep Gill, 20, and Yagnik-Kumar Patel, 24, drowned but a friend managed to make it to shore.
The friend was in a serious but stable condition in hospital yesterday.
The spot the three men entered the water about 7.30pm on Saturday in an area that is deceptively calm, just north of Lion Rock.
Off-duty lifeguards a few hundred metres away were alerted when the hysterical friend stumbled on to the beach. Surf lifesaver Logan Adams said: "They've just gone into the water at a notoriously dangerous spot almost at dark ... It happens too often and it absolutely is a tragedy."
A major rescue operation began involving lifeguards the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter and the police helicopter.
Despite their efforts the search was called off due to bad light and was to have resumed yesterday morning. Before that could happen the bodies of the two men were found at about 6.40am close to each other at almost the spot they went into the water.
Piha senior lifeguard Greg Wilson made the grim discovery. He told the Herald it was surprise the bodies surfaced so soon.
"I think in all the incidents I've been involved in out here this is the first time someone's been found the day after.
"Usually with Piha we have between day five and day 10 and they're usually swept up anywhere from Bethells to Muriwai ... But the surf does funny things."
Mr Wilson said
rescue conditions were not ideal with failing light and the location was a black spot for their radios.
"And there is a rip almost permanently there - quite a strong unforgiving rip."
Late yesterday afternoon a 30-year-old woman was flown to Auckland Hospital by the Westpac helicopter in a serious condition after getting into trouble at Bethells Beach.
- Andrew Koubaridis of the NZ Herald, additional reporting Yvonne Tahana