A search and rescue operation is under way for a man who's been swept out to sea at Lake Ferry in Wairarapa this afternoon.

The man was believed to have been near the river-mouth when he was swept out to sea about 2.30pm.

A police spokeswoman said that about 3.15pm the man was still missing and searchers were looking for him, by air and in the water.

A Coastguard spokeswoman said its Wellington unit was involved in the search but she had little other information at this stage.

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An employee at the nearby Lake Ferry Hotel said she had just returned from the search area.

"I've been down there. The rescue services are there but there's no visual on the guy from what I could see at the moment.

"It's not common but it is a very dangerous area - I don't know why they would be in the water.

"There's a lot of people down there watching and I've lost sight of the chopper at the moment.

"I did see one of the boats speed off really quickly but that's all that I know at this stage."

More details to come.