Rescue drill turns real as US Coast Guard finds missing Tongans

Wellington (AFP) - A search and rescue exercise turned real for a US Coast Guard crew who found six Tongan fishermen missing at sea for a week, New Zealand officials said Friday.

New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre officer Greg Johnston said Tongan police raised the alarm as the US Coast Guard C-130 Hercules was preparing to return to Honolulu following a multi-national rescue drill in Auckland.

The US crew were alerted as they were flying through the area of the Pacific Ocean where the six were believed to be.

"The Coast Guard crew spotted the six men in their 12-metre (39-foot) vessel shortly after entering the search area, about 90 kilometres (55 miles) offshore from Tongatapu Island," Johnston said.

"They dropped the stricken men food, water, a radio and a transponder."

A Tongan navy vessel was directed to the area and picked up the men at daybreak on Friday. No details were immediately given on why the men needed rescuing or their condition when found.