An RNZAF Orion has played a vital role in the rescue of four people lost for a week in the Pacific Ocean.

The four, a 54-year-old man, 53-year-old woman and two boys aged seven and eight, spent six days adrift in their 4m aluminium dinghy after going missing near Kiribati on October 31.

They became the subject of an international rescue mission when Kiribati authorities called the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) on November 4.

An Air Force Orion was sent to help with the search on Saturday.

Its crew spotted the missing boat within half an hour of arriving in the search area.

The United States Coastguard boat Rush sent a rescue party to recover the four survivors.

They were treated for mild hypothermia, ulcerations and malnourishment and returned to Butaritari village in Kiribat