An experienced police search and rescue officer missing in dense bush could have died without his locator equipment, his rescuers say.

Sergeant Andy Brooke and his Jack Russell terrier became lost in the Tararua Ranges near Otaki - while preparing a trail for a future search and rescue exercise.

His colleagues launched a search operation on Friday night when he failed to return to his car, parked at Otaki Forks, by 9pm.

About 40 searchers and two helicopters were involved in the operation.

Brooke had a GPS and knew where he was, but the route he was following took longer than expected as he struggled over fallen branches and logs brought down by rain.

The 50-year-old had been sending messages indicating his location using Spot-Me technology but the signal failed to get through.

He activated a Personal Locator Beacon and a Spot-Me device on Friday, but a signal was picked up by rescuers more than 12 hours later.

Officers winched the Palmerston North officer and his dog to safety.

Acting Inspector Brett Calkin said the rescue showed tramping was risky, even when someone was experienced and equipped with technology.

"It is incredibly fortunate that a signal finally was received. It could have been a very different outcome if he was not able to make contact with us."

Brooke said he wanted to thank everyone who helped in the search.

"I was prepared for even longer in the bush with food and equipment, but was equally very pleased that I was able to alert them as to my location so they could extract me."