Friends of a boy buried beneath a mound of dirt ran to neighbouring homes to ask for help yesterday.

The 12-year-old boy remains in intensive care after being buried while digging holes in Twizel with friends about 10am.

Neighbour Anne Hunter said one of the boys came to her door to ask for a glass of water for the injured boy, who had by then been uncovered by his father.

The 12-year-old was playing on a reserve in Twizel when he became trapped beneath the pile of dirt.

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Mrs Hunter's house backs on to the reserve, known locally as "the backtracks".

"They were playing in a pile of dirt digging holes and making caves and one collapsed on him," Mrs Hunter said.

She said the boy's friends knocked on the door and asked for a glass of water.

"I asked if I should call an ambulance but one was already there and the Otago Helicopter arrived quickly. It was just terrible."

Twizel police Senior Constable Les Andrew said the boy's father pulled him out of the hole.

"When he left he was screaming and crying and so-forth which is a good sign."

The boy was from Timaru and had been in Twizel staying at a family bach, he said.

A South Island St John spokesman said they were alerted at 10.22am and sent an ambulance with emergency services from Twizel.

The Otago rescue helicopter also attended with St John paramedics on board and transported the boy to Dunedin Hospital's emergency department in a serious condition, with possible chest injuries and injuries caused by the suffocation from the dirt, the spokesman said.

He remained there today in a stable condition in the Intensive Care Unit.