THREE people are dead and two have been rescued after a catamaran overturned off Newcastle in what has been described as "a traumatic scene".
Marine Rescue crews from Newcastle and Port Stephens raced to a mayday call off the Hunter's coast on Thursday morning.
An EPIRB - an emergency beacon - was set off about 10am calling for help at a location approximately seven to 15 nautical miles from Stockton Bight.
Water police and RAAF members also joined the rescue operation and found a 11.7 metre catamaran overturned in high seas. The catamaran was on a voyage from Port Stephens to the Central Coast when it capsized.
"At this stage two people have been winched from the water and taken to John Hunter Hospital," police said in a statement.
"Three bodies have been found in the water and have been retrieved by Marine Rescue."
The crew from the Westpac Rescue Helicopter winched the teenage girl and a man in his 40s to safety. Both were taken to John Hunter Hospital in a stable condition.
Ambulance NSW Inspector Luke Wiseman said when emergency services arrived at the "very, very confronting" scene they found the three people deceased in the water and worked to recover the bodies.
"It was quite a traumatic scene for all. On all accounts they [the first-responders] were reporting that it was a very, very confronting scene," he said.
He described the conditions on the water as "quite high sea conditions, with quite significant winds".
"It was rough when they got there and they had a lot of debris to content with in the water."
He confirmed that the people onboard the boat were wearing life jackets, but it is not yet known if they had boating experience.
"They were travelling as a group, but we don't know if they were all connected as a family," he said.
Police will now take over the investigation into the two deaths, with a report to be prepared for the coroner.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority received the distress call.
"AMSA initially tasked the Westpac rescue helicopter from Belmont, which reached the scene at around 10.45 am to find the overturned vessel," a statement said.
" A helicopter crewman was able to recover the survivors on board to transfer them to hospital.
"AMSA also tasked a rescue helicopter from Williamtown, which remained on scene until Volunteer Marine Rescue vessels from Newcastle and Port Stephens arrived to recover the bodies of the deceased.
"AMSA extends its condolences to the families of the deceased. AMSA would like to thank the rescue crews involved for their swift response, which saved two lives today."
Unfavourable conditions have stopped police from being able to retrieve the catamaran. Its position will be monitored and distributed to the marine community until it can be salvaged.
The tragic incident comes at the same time fishers and boaties have been warned of strong westerly winds along the coastline.
Road and Maritime Services asked boaties to take extra care on the water as choppy conditions were expected on exposed bays as well as dangerously rough conditions offshore.
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