A DISTRESS beacon that sounded its alarm north of Armidale turned out to be nothing more than a load of rubbish for Westpac Rescue Helicopter crews.
Chopper crews were alerted to the distress beacon in the early hours of Monday morning with concerns someone was in trouble.
Instead, an extensive search revealed the beacon had been tossed in a landfill about six kilometres outside of Armidale.
When Westpac Rescue Helicopter crews arrived, there was no one in distress.
The search lasted several hours and wasted valuable resources that are needed to save lives, Westpac Rescue Helicopter aircrew officer Jamie Yeo said.
"The crew left at about 9:30am and that means they weren't in Tamworth for people who might need the aircraft," he said.
"There would have been four people on board that aircraft including a doctor and intensive care paramedic.
"That means those people aren't being used - plus the aircraft itself is not a cheap exercise, meanwhile they are searching for someone who is not really there."
The dump the distress beacon was found in was near a small dirt airstrip not far from the town.
The honer in the aircraft led the crew to the landfill, but once landed a manual search has to be conducted using a frequency detection device to find the beacon's exact location.
On Monday the crew were out for a couple of hours looking for the device, Mr Yeo said.
"This happens reasonably often, the issue is that people shouldn't discard these beacons because resources are being used to search for people that don't need to be searched for," he said.
"If it's out of date or out of life, take the batteries out or discard of it properly, we search thinking someone is genuinely in trouble and the tip is a common place to find them."
Newer Epirbs or distress beacons require owners to register their contact details so that if the beacon goes off the owner can be contacted first.
It's hoped it will help avoid situations like the one on Monday, but older devices being thrown out aren't registered to an individual.
Mr Yeo estimates every couple of months a rescue crew is sent to a distress beacon that turns out to be false.