Police divers are heading to Taupo to recover what is believed to be the body of a young Irish tourist who got into difficulties in the Waikato River on Wednesday afternoon.

Senior Constable Barry Shepherd said the 21-year-old man was one of a group of six young tourists swimming in a thermally heated Waikato River tributary near Spa Park.

“We’re unsure how the finer points of it unfolded, but he’s been drifting down river and has been unable to float,” Shepherd said.

“Other people, including a Taupo off-duty fireman, leapt into the river in an attempt to save him but were unsuccessful.”

The Lion Foundation rescue helicopter and coastguard boat launched a search for the man and what appeared to be a body was seen on the river bed downstream from where the group were in the water.

Police divers from Wellington would assess the situation when they arrived and it was likely they would enter the water on Wednesday night.

Shepherd said it was a sad event that had quickly turned around a situation where friends were having a good time holidaying in New Zealand.

He said police had been in touch with the Irish Consulate to advise them of the situation.