A body has been found on the banks of the Ashley River during a training exercise for search and rescue staff, police say.

Senior Sergeant Paul Reeves, of Rangiora, said the body was found about 4pm.

A formal identification will now be carried out. The death has been referred to the Coroner, Reeves said.

The Ashley River was the scene of an extensive search in December after Rangiora woman Emma Beattie, 20, disappeared from her nearby Fernside home.

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A police spokeswoman said they could not say if the body was believed to be that of Beattie.

Police said yesterday the training exercise, which involved up to 100 participants from Canterbury Land search and rescue, police search and rescue and the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications' Group, would focus on the area where Beattie went missing.

Search and Rescue coordinator Sergeant Phil Simmonds said yesterday it was the major training event for the year.

"The exercise will be used as an opportunity to continue the search for 20-year-old Emma Beattie, who went missing from her Fernside home in December."

The officer in charge of the search for Beattie, Senior Sergeant Paul Reeves, said yesterday the Beattie family had asked for privacy.

"Our sympathies are with the Beattie family – they want more than anything to bring Emma home."