A former West Coast gold miner whose body was discovered at the bottom of a deep hole yesterday had disappeared previously.

Kumara man Rowan Harold Kerr, 78, was found at about 2.15pm by workers checking power lines after yesterday's large Southern Alps earthquakes. He had fallen about 14 metres to his death in the naturally-occurring hole located on the verge of Kumara-Inchbonnie Rd that locals say is often used for fly-tipping.

Police have ruled out foul play and referred his death to the coroner. It's not yet clear to police exactly how long Mr Kerr, who had been suffering the early stages of dementia, had been there.

His sister Joyce Wafer, who also lives in Kumara, was too upset to talk today, as was niece Jennifer Fitzgerald. "I'm not up to it today. I was very close to Rowie," she said.

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Power company workers saw a car in the area 1km out of town at about 10am yesterday when beginning their line checks. One of them recognised it as being Mr Kerr's grey Holden Gemini.

When they returned in the afternoon, it was still there and they "decided to act on it and that is when they found Mr Kerr's body", Tasman police communications manager Barbara Dunn said.

A search and rescue abseil team were called in to recover the body yesterday.

One local man, who did not wish to be named, found out last night that Mr Kerr had died. "I knew him all my life. It was a bit of a shock. He hadn't been in good health, he had a few ailments, but he was OK," the man said. "He was a good guy, old Rowan."

Mr Kerr was the subject of an extensive missing persons hunt last October after his family reported him missing when he became lost after setting out to visit his daughter in Christchurch. He was found the next day some 65km south of his destination by a resident in Ellesmere.

Locals say Mr Kerr was well-known in Kumara. He had worked in the local post office before spending the majority of his working life as a gold dredge worker on the Taramakau River.
Additional reporting Greymouth Star