‘Genius’ engineer discovered lifeless after mountain climbing journey was ‘proper up there with the most effective’

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Matthias Kerkmann, 54, was found dead on Monday after a climb in Peraki Bay, Banks Peninsula - a climb he completed several times without incident.  He lived in Lincoln, south of Christchurch.

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Matthias Kerkmann, 54, was found dead on Monday after a climb in Peraki Bay, Banks Peninsula – a climb he completed several times without incident. He lived in Lincoln, south of Christchurch.

A climber found dead after his disappearance was a “genius” designer and highly skilled climber, his family and colleagues say.

Matthias Kerkmann, 54, failed to return home from his climb to Peraki on Banks Peninsula in Canterbury on Sunday, prompting an emergency response that evening.

The search was hampered by darkness and poor weather conditions, but his body was found around 10.45am Monday morning. His death was handed over to the coroner.

Climbing was Kerkmann’s “whole life” and took him around the world, said his wife Jane Kerkmann.

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He is a confident climber with over 40 years of experience and rarely takes risks, she said.

“He was an honorable man who believed in making things right … he would do anything for his family.”

Jane was his ‘Galway girl’, the couple met in the Irish city in 2002 while they were both working there. They had a son who is now 12 years old.

Kerkmann, originally from Germany, died from a fall, but the circumstances of his death are unclear.

He usually went climbing with a partner, but not on the weekends because it was a “spontaneous decision,” his wife said.

“It was in his blood. He often said that just looking at the rocks made his fingers tingle to climb.”

Kerkmann had been on a climbing trip to Peraki Bay on Banks Peninsula when he failed to return on Sunday night.  (file photo).

Mike Crean/Stuff

Kerkmann had been on a climbing trip to Peraki Bay on Banks Peninsula when he failed to return on Sunday night. (file photo).

The six climbing routes in the Peraki Valley cover a range of difficulty levels, including multi-pitch routes that require advanced climbing skills. According to ClimbNZ, they are between 30 and 75 meters long.

Kerkmann, who lived in Lincoln, had worked for engineering firm Wyma Solutions for the past 12 years, and managing director Andrew Barclay described him as a quirky German with a keen sense of humor who was “right up there with the best” in both design engineering and climbing.

He is an experienced, confident climber and mountaineer who has scaled Mt. Aspiring solo several times in cold winter conditions, Barclay said.

“Something must have gone terribly wrong.”

Kerkmann is the “embodiment of German precision – structured, accurate and methodical” in both his work and personal life, Barclay said.

“He has designed a number of machines that we sell worldwide and he has managed some of our largest and most complex projects.”

He planned and outlined every aspect of his life, including his work projects, climbing missions, and social plans, and had a counter on his work computer screen counting down to his retirement.

Kerkmann was well loved and respected in Wyma’s New Zealand and overseas offices, and the company received an avalanche of messages after people learned of his death, Barclay said.

“He had many friends and was a family man. He was a hell of a nice guy and very, very popular… he will be missed greatly.”

A quote from Kerkmann himself on Wyma’s website reads: “Face-to-face conversation is important in our industry; If you know the people and their challenges well, you can contribute a lot more.

“I like going out and seeing our customers in Europe and being there.”

Originally trained as an engineer in Germany, Kerkmann worked in the renewable energy sector in Australia’s Northern Territory in the mid-2000s.

For an avid rock climber and mountaineer, an offer to move to New Zealand in 2007 was the perfect opportunity.

He met Barclay in 2010 and the two soon worked together, Kerkmann quickly becoming a senior member of Wyma’s project management team.

Former colleague Jeremy Prendeville worked with Kerkmann at Wyma and Xerox for several years and said he was a “very clever engineer”.

“I found his humor dry and more of an IQ test than most humor I’m used to.”

Kerkmann is “actually a bit brilliant,” said Prendeville.

“He was the really brilliant designer. He was difficult and could be amazing.

“It was a credit to Matthias’ character that he wasn’t more arrogant than him because he had incredible aspects of the spirit that I think would lead most people to be more arrogant than him.”

A private funeral for Kerkmann will be held next week, followed by a public celebration of his life, Kerkmann’s wife said.