A search was mounted for possible survivors after a car was seen in a South Island river this evening.

Witness reports of a car in the Buller River about 4.50pm sent emergency crews scrambling along Lower Buller Gorge Rd, which runs parallel to the West Coast river.

A police spokeswoman said search and rescue teams scoured the river, east of Westport, for signs of the reported car and any people who may have been inside.

However, no car or people were found and the search has since been stood down for the night, she said.

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A scene guard will remain at the search location overnight, before the rescue teams and possible a police dive squad return tomorrow morning.