A pilot teaching students how to land on a Northland beach sparked a rescue operation after reports of a light aircraft possibly crashing.

Whangarei Flying Club captain and chief instructor Rusty Russell said he was undertaking regular training with students, instructing them how to do a beach landing. He had flown safely from the scene before the alarm was raised about 8.50am yesterday.

A Refining New Zealand spokesman confirmed two emergency rescue crews had been part of the police response.

As the land search was under way, the Northern Advocate telephoned Mr Russell about 10am to ask if he knew of any flyers who had been out that way.

''That was me!'' he said.


Mr Russell said he had landed every day at some beach or other in Northland for the past six years and he had followed correct procedures when it came to notifying other air users of his flight plans around Whangarei, which was an uncontrolled airspace.

He said he made about eight swoops and landings on Ruakaka Beach yesterday morning but had no idea the flying lesson had spurred an emergency callout.

''Somebody thought they saw something wrong, and they reported it. There's nothing wrong with that,'' he said when he learned of the callout.

Police contacted Whangarei Airport to see if they were aware of any planes in trouble.

In fact in January 2015 Mr Russell was at the centre of a search after a report of a gyrocopter crashing near Ruakaka Beach sand dunes. It turned out to be a false alarm.

Mr Russell said a police officer had visited him yesterday afternoon and advised him to ring *555, normally the number for traffic complaints, to let the police communication centre know his flight plans. He would now be doing that.

Whangarei police Senior Sergeant Daniel Cleaver said a person at the port had rung police and notified them of a plane disappearing behind trees and possibly landing on the beach off Mair Rd.

A police officer went to the area and was unable to find the aircraft. Mr Russell contacted Whangarei police about 9.50pm after he became aware of what was happening.

"A guy has seen something that wasn't right and it's better to be safe than sorry. It was the right thing to do to contact police as the pilot may have been in trouble," Mr Cleaver said.

Beaches were known as ''backstrips'' and non-emergency landings on them were approved by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority New Zealand), provided the plane stayed 150m from people, vehicles and obstructions throughout the process, Mr Russell said.

CAA spokeswoman Phillipa Lagan said beach landings were legal and those safety protocols did apply.