I'm safe, father-of-two Owen Wright texted his wife from amid the rubble of a devastated Christchurch.

Wright was working in his Joinery by Design business in the city, when the quake hit - but he was unscathed.

Assured that his family were safe at home in Lyttelton, he and his business partner spent a couple of hours tidying up the Woolston factory - and then he set out for home in his Land Rover.

But when the 40-year-old family man arrived at the base of the Port Hills he found the tunnel closed, so he turned up the Bridle Path to drive over the top.

Wright was desperate to get home to see his wife Megan and kids - 6-year-old Sarah and 3-year-old Eric - but he also wanted to help out.

So as he passed tired, scared people trekking on foot up the Bridle Path, he stopped time and time again to pick them up. He would drop some off at the top - then go back for more.

Eventually, he parked the Land Rover at the top, where the road was blocked, and set out on foot himself, down the Major Hornbrook Track towards his Lyttelton home.

He texted his wife of 17 years again: "Home in 10," he wrote.

That was his last contact.

As he walked down the path, almost within sight of home, another aftershock hit. The keen outdoors-man was crushed by boulders.

Wright had survived the earthquake. Today, he should have been celebrating his son's fourth birthday.

Instead, his determination to help others came at the cost of his own life.

"He survived the earthquake," said his brother Anthony.

"He gave a number of people rides up the Bridle Path because they were walking home to Lyttelton from Heathcote. We understand that was his last act of kindness.

"He sent a text to his wife saying 'home in 10'. That was the last contact. I understand he was caught in rockfall during an aftershock," the brother said.

As his wife worried, other people walking down the Port Hills discovered his body and notified emergency services. The police knocked on the door after discovering his driver's licence in his pocket.

Compounding the pain for his family, the body has not been returned for them to mourn over.

Megan Wright had identified his body with police on Tuesday. He was taken to a morgue, but the coroner had required no bodies to be released until they were identified by dental records.

"There has been a delay with his identification and with so many people killed and missing I can understand it is hard for the teams working in Christchurch but it's hard on the family because we can't make any funeral arrangements," said Anthony Wright.

Another Lyttelton man, father-of-three Ian Foldesi, was killed as he walked in the Port Hills when Tuesday's earthquake struck.

His daughter Sarah found his body. It was taken to a morgue but it, too, has still not been released to the family. His wife Marie said the family were too upset to talk about his death.

A spokesman for Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said: "We understand the frustration that some families may be starting to feel. But despite dealing with a tragedy of unprecedented scale, we can't afford to make one mistake. So we are dealing with each individual with the respect and absolute professionalism that they deserve."

"The reality is that we must have absolute certainty."