Three helicopters - including two rescue choppers - were sent on a mercy dash south of Auckland yesterday for a plane disaster that didn't happen.

The Police Eagle helicopter and two Auckland-based rescue helicopters, along with fire crews and two coastguard vessels, were scrambled by the country's maritime rescue centre around 3.10pm, after a person called police saying a large military plane had crashed into the sea off the mouth of Port Waikato.

Within minutes of the alarm being raised the Rescue Coordination Centre sprung into action, and a large-scale sea and air emergency operation was mounted. But as emergency services headed to the crash scene at the remote coastal township on the North Island's west coast, further inquiries revealed no plane had ditched into the water.

"A large military aircraft was found to have passed through the area at low level at the time of the sighting," Rescue Coordination Centre NZ manager Mike Hill said.

"It was established that the person who reported the crash was mistaken."

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He said the two Westpac rescue helicopters, based around 60km away as the crow flies, arrived on scene at about the same time as the situation was clarified.

According to the daily flight log, two Auckland-based rescue craft were in the air at 3.09pm and 3.20pm, each tasked by the Rescue Coordination Centre to help in the search and rescue of a reported plane crash.

The log said the incident turned out to be a false alarm and flight crew stood down and returned to base.

Each rescue helicopter flight costs about $4500 to $5000 to the community.

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A New Zealand Defence Force spokesman said it was a genuine mistake by a well-meaning of the public and there was never any emergency situation.

A C-130 Hercules was in the area conducting routine flying training, some of it at low level. The flight had been notified, as required, to the proper authority, in this case Air Traffic Control which is responsible for monitoring the safety of flights.

It appeared a member of the public mistakenly thought the aircraft was in trouble and called the police who in turn notified RCCNZ, the spokesman said.

While there was no crash or emergency in this instance, the NZDF was grateful for RCCNZ's prompt response which would be essential in the event of an emergency actually occurring.

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