Staged sea-rescue to strengthen United States, New Zealand ties

The United States Coast Guard flew over Auckland for the first time in more than 20 years, in an open sea rescue in the Hauraki Gulf.

But no lives were at stake on Tuesday - the dramatic operation was just for show.

The demonstration was a showcase of search and rescue cooperation between New Zealand and the United States.

It's the first time a US Coastguard plane has visited New Zealand in a generation, and a lesson to all Pacific countries in how to save lives in the world's biggest ocean.

Rescue Coordination Centre's Mike Hill says it'll help understand more about their joint capabilities.

"Particularly for Pacific countries that in the worst case are lost or missing or in distress, what they can do to make sure they are saved," he says.

Twenty six nations have come to Auckland for the Pacific Search and Rescue Conference. It's a chance to share knowledge, resources and skills which will be tested in trying conditions.

US coastguard Rich Roberts says it's about strengthening a bond.

"The quintessential element of what we're here to do is build those relationships in the South and Central Pacific."

Even in the calm of a big city harbour, it's an exercise in precision and planning. But in the rough waters of the Pacific Ocean real-life rescues are more difficult still.

"The winds, the environmental conditions create much more challenge for the air crews to put an accurate drop," Mr Roberts says.

New Zealand's Search and Rescue Region is a massive 30 million square kilometres of ocean from Antarctica to the Pacific Islands - that's three times the size of Europe.

Calls for help come every three or four days, and most at sea are completely unprepared.

Mr Hill says he'd like to see people carry forms of communication.

"The Royal NZ Air Force, 80 percent of the jobs they do, people don't have a beacon. That's why it takes an international effort - sometimes just finding those in need of rescue can be like looking for a drop in the ocean."