A heartbroken grandfather says he is moved by his "humble" son's bravery after he died trying to save his grandson in water off a beach near Wollongong.

Stephen Mote's 10-year-old son Kingston and his niece were swept out to sea by a freak wave at Woonona Beach when he tried to bring them to safety about 5.30pm on Saturday.

His father Sauaga Mote told The Daily Telegraph today he had been left shattered after his son's partner phoned him about an hour later and said he had died when rescuing the two children.

"My son, my oldest … his (partner) tried to call me around 7pm last night, she said 'are you strong?' … I asked what's going on, please explain properly? And I heard she said: 'Stephen's gone'," Mr Mote said.

Sauaga Mote, the father of Stephen Mote who drowned yesterday at Woonona beach as he tried to save his children. Picture: Adam Yip
Sauaga Mote, the father of Stephen Mote who drowned yesterday at Woonona beach as he tried to save his children. Picture: Adam Yip

Police said the children had been playing in the shallows when they were suddenly swept out to sea.

Bystanders used jet skis and surfboards to assist the group back to shore but Stephen was pulled unconscious from the water and later declared dead at the scene.

Mr Mote senior said he already missed his son and described him as "humble".

"He is a very good boy, he is humble, friendly … I miss him, his kids (have) all my heart," he said.

Stephen, who worked in the disability sector, was living in Macquarie Fields with his four sons and partner before his death.

Mr Mote senior was born in Samoa and raised Stephen in New Zealand before they relocated to Australia.

The tragic scene at Woonona Beach. Picture: TNV
The tragic scene at Woonona Beach. Picture: TNV

NSW Ambulance inspector Matt Sterling described the incident as "absolutely heartbreaking".

"No words can describe the scene we were faced with today," he said.

"The surfers and surf lifesavers that jumped in to save these patients are simply heroic. I can't thank them enough."

The Lifesaver Helicopter was also called to the scene and landed near the surf club.


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