Fears growing that gap year turned to tragedy

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 30/04/2014
Lea Tietz
MISSING: Lea Tietz.
Veronika
MISSING: Veronika Steudler.

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The family of a missing skipper have finally been told their loved one is lost.

Andre Kinzler, 33, disappeared with two female teenage companions, Lea Tietz and Veronika Steudler, on April 16 after they left Bluff headed for Preservation Inlet.

They have not been heard from yet.

Southland police area commander Inspector Lane Todd said yesterday that police had been unable to contact Kinzler's family, but confirmed today that they had been located and told of the news.

Police have been searching for the trio, who were on board Kinzler's 7.5-metre yacht Munetra, since Friday.

They had managed to reach the two teen's families during the weekend, but had difficulty finding Kinzler's.

Todd said there had been no developments in the search for the yacht overnight and it was now a missing persons' inquiry.

Lea Tietz and Veronika Steudler, both 19, were on a year of adventure in New Zealand before they met Andre Kinzler, 33, a dairy farmer living in Central Southland.

On April 16, the trio set sail in Kinzler's yacht from Bluff to Preservation Inlet in Fiordland.

Tietz and Kinzler met on Stewart Island about a month ago before planning the trip in his yacht, the 7.5-metre Munetra.

Their disappearance sparked a major three-day search of southern waters covering 80,000 square kilometres and including the use of air force Orion.

Todd said the search was scaled down on Sunday into a "limited continous search phase" and police were focusing their attention on a missing persons' inquiry.

"We are committed to doing our best for the families of Lea, Veronika and Andre to ensure we provide them with the best possible information about the events leading up to the trio leaving Bluff."

The two teenagers, who knew each other from their home region of Gorlitz, in Germany, had finished school last year before setting off on their overseas experience. They had been travelling around New Zealand since September and met up to travel together from time to time.

They were both due to return home next month.

Police are now investigating Kinzler's sailing experience. 

Kinzler's employer raised the alarm that they were missing.

Todd said it was believed Kinzler had bought the boat in the past 12 months. ". . . his previous sailing experience may have been limited."

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Bluff marine radio operator Meri Leask may have been the last person to have contact with Kinzler on the Munetra. She declined to comment on the situation last night.

However, earlier this week, Leask said the skipper had only a hand-held radio when he left Bluff in rough conditions.

"He was not a communicator so we didn't have concerns about him because of the way he operated," Leask said. "It didn't matter what we said to him or what anybody said to him; he did his own thing."

Police are now piecing together the trio's movements before they boarded the yacht on that autumn day and have asked local fishermen to continue to look out for the boat.

 

- The Southland Times

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