Missing German skipper was 'free spirit', says boss

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 02/05/2014
andre kinzler
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Andre Kinzler on his yacht Munetra. He, his yacht and two others onboard haven't been seen since leaving Bluff on April 16.
Southland Times photo
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
The RNZA Orion aircraft leaving Invercargill to search for the missing German yachties off the southern Fiordland coast.

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An Airforce Orion is back out searching for a missing yacht with three Germans on board.

Southland police area commander Inspector Lane Todd said the plane had been searching for the trio yesterday afternoon and was back out canvassing southern waters again today.

An Orion had been searching for the three companions, Andre Kinzler, 33, Lea Tietz and Veronika Steudler, both aged 19, who departed Bluff for Preservation Inlet on April 16.

They have not been heard from since.Todd said the plane was hoping to find debris, but its search had so far been fruitless.

There was very slim chance of the three Germans being castaway anywhere, he said.

"There is a still a slim liklihood that we could get wreckage.:

Andre Kinzler was warned by friends about ferocious southern waters in rough weather before he boarded his yacht with two teenage girls a fortnight ago.

But the "free spirit" was an adventurer and, sadly, the trio hasn't been heard from since.

The 33-year-old German had dreams of sailing the world before he boarded Munetra on April 16 bound for Preservation Inlet, a journey that should have taken between 10 and 12 hours.

Kinzler and his two friends Lea Tietz and Veronika Steudler, both 19, sparked a major search of southern waters when they did not return home from their planned six-day voyage to the Fiordland inlet.

Emergency services searched for the trio for three days, including using an air force Orion, but found nothing.

A dairy farm manager and a keen sailor, Kinzler had lived in Southland for nearly four years.

He spent all his free time sailing, according to his boss and Central Southland farmer Jim Cooper.

The news of Kinzler's disappearance had been devastating for Cooper and his 11 employees, who were all fond of Kinzler and his outgoing nature. "It's been hard; we are a pretty tight team."

Cooper spoke highly of the man who he said was an "awesome guy and amazing worker" but, when he didn't turn up for work, he knew something was wrong.

Kinzler, who grew up behind the wall in Germany, was frequently going on adventures, but he returned, on time for work every time. "He's always done these trips and turned up. He's never, ever let us down."

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But on April 22 he failed to turn up for early morning milking at the shed.

Cooper first called the coastguard to see if the boat had returned to Bluff but it had disappeared along with the three Germans. It still hasn't been found.

"It would have been nice if they could have found a bit of wreckage."

Kinzler had a liferaft with him, which was almost bigger than the boat, Cooper said, as well as a kayak tied to the side.

He had sailed to Stewart Island before and done several trips

around the Southland coast but he was still learning to sail, he said.

"He had to learn in some of the roughest waters in the world."

Cooper did not think Kinzler would have ignored the advice of Bluff marine radio operator Meri Leask, who said earlier this week that Kinzler was "not a communicator".

Instead, he thought it may have been a lack of understanding of New Zealand sailing systems and having to check in so often.

"I think he couldn't understand what that was about," Cooper said.

"We said to him before he left if the weather wasn't right, don't force it. I think he just underestimated the way the sea works; he was lacking local knowledge of the sea."

He was an adventurer, and cycled around New Zealand before settling in Southland and working on farms. "He was a really nice guy, a top guy."

But it was that adventurous personality that may have got him into trouble.

Cooper said he hoped there was a possibility they could be found, Kinzler's house was still full of his possessions, like the day he left it.

But Cooper knew that if something had gone wrong, Kinzler would have done anything to save the two teens first. "He was a survivor . . . he would have put his life on the line to save those two girls."

Tietz had visited the farm and was a quiet but lovely girl, Cooper said. "It's just gone wrong . . . there's no trace, that is the hard part."

The Cooper family said one of the hardest things was knowing that someone's son was missing and his family didn't know.

It took police days to track down Kinzler's family in Germany and tell them of the tragic news.

"For us sitting here, knowing that his family didn't know, that is really hard."

Kinzler often spoke fondly of his elderly grandparents, who he was very close to, Cooper said.

His grandfather had planned a trip to New Zealand to visit him earlier this year, but had cancelled because he believed he was too frail.

Kinzler had dreamed of sailing to Germany one day to see them, Cooper said.

"He was telling me his ultimate dream was to sail to his home port and have his grandparents watch him."

Unfortunately, that dream may never be realised.

His friends and family are now taking solace in the fact he lived life to the full.

"Andre was a free spirit, he enjoyed life."

 

- The Southland Times

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