File photo: A high altitude WiFi internet hub Google Project Loon balloon is displayed at the Airforce Museum in Christchurch.

Wellington - Emergency services were dispatched on Friday after reports that a light plane crashed into the sea near Christchurch, only to find the “plane” was an unmanned Google Wi-Fi balloon.

Police said a rescue helicopter and two coastguard craft were called to a remote location north of Christchurch after a local farmer phoned emergency services to say a plane had gone down.

They discovered it was in fact a Wi-Fi balloon, part of Google's Project Loon, in which the company has sent large helium-filled balloons into the atmosphere to investigate ways to deliver high-speed internet to remote locations.

Google first began sending balloons into the atmosphere in New Zealand in June 2013 when 30 balloons were launched from the South Island as part of a pilot project. Its professed goal is to establish a “ring of connectivity” around the 40th southern parallel. Police asked Google to retrieve the balloon and said the company was in the process of arranging its removal. - Sapa-dpa