Mt Taranaki deaths: Families of Peter Kirkwood and Richard Phillips ‘devastated’

Two climbers found dead on Mount Taranaki have been described by their families as avid travellers and adventurers.

Richard Phillips, 46 and Peter Kirkwood, 33, died while climbing the mountain on Tuesday. Police recovered their bodies today.

As well as being a Tonkin + Taylor engineering geologist, Kirkwood “was the rock of his family and they are devastated by his loss”, a statement issued by police said.

“Rich was happiest in the hills with his family and his beloved dog Betsy.

“He was an experienced climber, hiker, mountain biker and diver who had travelled widely before settling in New Zealand.

“He was the sort of person who could turn his hand to anything, including having a hands-on role in building the family’s home on the Port Hills in Christchurch.

“He was a loyal and loving friend who would never fail to go the extra mile for anyone.”

Phillips leaves behind his partner and two teenage daughters.

He met Jacqueline while travelling in Nepal and moved from the UK to New Zealand in 2008.

The family requests that donations are made to Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue, or the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.

Kirkwood, also with Tonkin + Taylor as geotechnical engineer, was born in Wales and moved to New Zealand in 2018.

“The mountains were central to Peter’s life,” his family said in a statement.

“He was a skilled and experienced tramper, mountaineer and backcountry skier, who had climbed numerous peaks in the European Alps, the Scottish Highlands, the North American Rockies, and the New Zealand Southern Alps.

“He had recently become a father, and was looking forward to introducing his baby daughter, Elaine Sierra, to the mountains that he and Kerrie Ann loved so much.”

The family said Kirkwood was a loyal and adventurous soul who will be dearly missed, and his loss leaves a huge hole in the lives of his family and friends.

He met his wife-to-be, Kerrie Ann, in the University of Cambridge Hillwalking Club.

A formal identification process will now be undertaken to identify the men, a police statement said earlier.

The men lived in Christchurch and had travelled to Taranaki as part of their work for environmental and engineering consultancy company Tonkin + Taylor.

They were climbing the mountain in their own time.

One of the climbers raised the alarm with police on Tuesday night, saying the other had fallen.

The bodies were recovered just after 8am today with the help of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter and police Search and Rescue and Alpine Cliff Rescue crew.

It followed an unsuccessful attempt to recover the bodies yesterday due to poor conditions. The climbers were first located just after midnight on Monday.

Tonkin + Taylor managing director Dr Tim Fisher said police told the company yesterday morning that two of their “treasured staff” had been involved in a climbing accident.

“Our priority right now is to support their families and our people as we deal with this incredibly sad news.

“We would like to thank Taranaki police and search and rescue for their service and support,” a company statement said.

A rāhui is in place on the mountain and will be reviewed a week after the bodies are recovered.

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