A search for a missing whitebaiter who was swept under a wave in Canterbury last night will resume shortly.

The 21-year-old man was whitebaiting with two friends in rough conditions at the Rakaia River mouth in Canterbury about 7pm last night, Sergeant Ryan O'Rourke said.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was sent to search for the man, as well as people on shore.

After about 45 minutes in the water the 21-year-old was located, but just as the helicopter was attempting to rescue him he was hit by a large wave and swept under.


He has not been seen since.

Searchers were stood down late last night, and would return to the area at first light today, Mr O'Rourke said.

"Conditions in the area are poor with strong north-east winds and large waves making searching difficult and dangerous,'' he said.

The weather was not expected to improve in the immediate future.