A sobbing Tony Veitch rang the Herald on Sunday in a distressed state yesterday as police scoured the country north of Taupo amid family fears he would again try to take his life.

Veitch was found in a car on a Waikato country road, drowsy and exhausted. There are concerns a number of pills were missing from the family home of his wife Zoe's parents, where the couple have been living.

Veitch was taken to the Ngaruawahia police station about 4pm - more than three hours after the broadcaster went missing. His father Graham Veitch was flown by private helicopter to be by his side within an hour of Veitch being found.

It came after two earlier suicide attempts by Veitch, and two days after he was convicted of injuring Kristin Dunne-Powell with reckless disregard - he had kicked her in the back after an argument in early 2006.

Zoe Veitch spent the hours of anxious waiting at the Remuera home of her parents, Paul and Glenys Halford. Shortly after Veitch was found, she spoke out to "beg" the country to leave her husband alone.

"The inordinate amount of stress on Tony would devastate anybody let alone someone who is suffering from extreme depression and suicidal thoughts.

"It has now reached a level where it is intolerable and I am begging that both media and public back off. Enough is enough and let us at least attempt to move on and get Tony well."

Veitch's mental health has become increasingly strained as the case developed. He is receiving visits two or three times a week from mental health staff at Auckland's Taylor Centre, although family are believed to be considering the need for him to be admitted to hospital.

Spokeswoman Glenda Hughes said Veitch was "absolutely strung out".

"He has struggled with the fact that people do not seem to understand that he is extremely remorseful and he has reached a stage where he just doesn't know what he can do."

She said Veitch reached breaking point when distress over public perception was compounded with growing controversy over references provided to the Auckland District Court.

The references were provided to the court in a bid to reduce his sentence - but it is now known that some were provided by well-known New Zealanders who believed they were for the return of his passport.

Referees included squash champion Dame Susan Devoy and Olympic chef de mission Dave Currie, who both said lines referring to the passport reference were removed from the letters by another party before being presented in court.

Veitch fled the Halford home just after midday yesterday, sparking an instant call to police from the family. Just after 1pm, Veitch rang the Herald on Sunday in a distressed and tearful state.

Veitch, who sobbed throughout the conversation, pleaded with the newspaper to run an email he had written to Dunne-Powell in late 2006, almost a year after the assault which left part of her spinal vertebrae fractured.

He had supplied the email a day earlier, saying that it showed he had apologised to Dunne-Powell and did feel remorse over the incident.

"Please promise me you will publish that letter. That will show people how sorry I am. I have always shown remorse. Please publish the letter," he said.

The email contains statements from Veitch to Dunne-Powell that include: "Good luck with your future ... again I say with utter sadness how sorry I am for all that happened."

Concerned at Veitch's obviously distressed state, the newspaper asked where he was and if anyone was with him. Veitch refused to answer, saying: "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Everything is done."

The newspaper contacted police emergency after the telephone call, concerned about his welfare.

It emerged the hunt for Veitch was already under way.

While police put in place a media blackout yesterday afternoon, the Herald on Sunday has learned that officers began searching for him using mobile telephone technology that locates cellphones.

The wider family quickly gathered at the Halford home and Veitch's separated parents, Sue and Graham, waited for news with Zoe Veitch and Hughes.

Officers detected a signal from Veitch's mobile phone through the Bramley Rd cell tower, just north of Hamilton. The police Eagle helicopter was summoned from Hamilton, where it had been assigned for the city's V8 race event.

While the signal gave only a general area to search, officers located Veitch about 3.40pm, drowsy and exhausted inside a car.

There was no hose attached to the vehicle - as there was reported to be in an earlier attempt - but a number of pills are believed to have gone missing from the Halford home.

Officers took Veitch to the Ngaruawahia police station. Shortly after, his father Graham Veitch flew by private helicopter to be with his son. About 5pm, Graham Veitch drove Tony Veitch back to Auckland, with an escort of three police cars.

Documents presented to the Auckland District Court when Veitch appeared on Thursday gave a stark picture of his fragile mental state.

A letter from psychologist Traude Leibbrand, written a few days before the hearing, said that Veitch had undergone 17 one-hour sessions since September last year after being referred for help by the local mental health crisis team.

"Tony continues to struggle with feelings of shame, guilt and grief relating to the incident of assault of his previous partner and the resulting legal proceedings," read Leibbrand's report.

"During the entire time of my involvement with Tony a close co-operation with the crisis team has been necessary as Tony's safety has been (and continues to be) compromised. He has been diagnosed with and continues to show symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety."

Another letter from psychiatrist Dr Trish van Kralingen, who works for Auckland District Health Board, said Veitch had "a diagnosis of a major depressive episode which has resulted in him experiencing low mood, poor sleep, impaired concentration, lowered energy, loss of enjoyment of life, anxiety, suicidal ideation (thoughts) and at times suicidal behaviour".