A body has been recovered from the Rangitikei River, and is believed to be a missing 16-year-old Valentino Laki who was swept away on Sunday night.

The Police National Dive Squad pulled the body from the river near Bulls, close to the SH3 bridge where the boy was last seen.

Formal identification is yet to be carried out, but police said they believed it was Valentino.

Ateliana Laki had adopted the teen, Valentino, from Samoa. He had only been living in New Zealand for nine months and could not swim, she told Fairfax.

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The death is now being referred to the coroner.

A search and rescue operation was launched yesterday evening, after police were alerted to the boy going missing about 6pm Sunday.

The 16-year-old was last seen around 45 minutes earlier, near the bridge where State High 3 crosses the river south of Bulls.

Police, the rescue helicopter, and a local jet boat searched the river.

Carloads of family and friends also turned up to join the search.

The river was running quite high towards the sea at Tangimoana and there was a lot of debris from recent rain.

Before the teen was discovered, Rangitikei District Mayor Andy Watson said people often got caught when river levels were like they are now.

"There's a lot of logs and willow trees that either get swept into the river, when the river's high, or they're on the banks."

He said his heart went out to the family.

Rangitikei College teacher Marise Taru said she taught the Valentino in the final school term of last year.

She said he was a happy and adventurous young man who had recently moved to New Zealand from Samoa.

Taru said she was devastated when she heard he was missing.

She said students often swum at the spot he disappeared from but described the trees on the side of the river as a "danger zone".

"It's fun and enjoyable until it's not, it can happen really quickly.

"I don't know if he's swum there a lot, I've seen him in a pool at school and he was always laughing and splashing around and having heaps of fun. I can imagine he wouldn't have even contemplated the consequences of a swollen river."