A New Zealand company has described the Auckland man who died after falling 100m down Bolivia's "Death Road" as "like a brother".

Grimly known as "Death Road", Yungas Rd links La Paz, the capital, to Coroico and has claimed the lives of more than 20 cyclists since 1998. Before an alternative route was created in 2009, up to 300 drivers lost their lives on the road each year.

Emile Vollenhoven and his girlfriend had been holidaying in South America before the incident unfolded.

Vollenhoven died after falling down a cliff around 11.50am local time on January 22 (6.50pm January 23 NZT), in rainy conditions during a mountain bike tour.


His workplace posted a tribute to its "man of the clinic" on Facebook.

"It is with a broken heart and great sadness that we need to share some very sad news of one our physio family, our "man of the clinic" Emile has tragically passed away while overseas on holiday with his amazing girlfriend," Physio Rehab Group - Pulman Park at Gymsport and Arena said on Facebook.

"Emile we don't know what to say really, we love you like a brother, you had so much more to give, we were going to help you achieve all your work dreams and you would have done in the most wonderful Emile way that you have. Such a special, calm, unique soul that we will never ever forget."

It is with a broken heart and great sadness that we need to share some very sad news of one our physio family, our “man...

Posted by Physio Rehab Group - Pulman Park at Gymsport and Arena on Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The incident took place when the tour reached about the halfway point, Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking owner and fellow Kiwi Alistair Matthew said.

"The Gravity guides went back up the road to look for him and identified where he had fallen off the road," he said.

"The lead guide abseiled down to where he had fallen to [approximately 100m below the road] and determined that he showed no signs of life."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it was aware of the death of a New Zealander in Bolivia and was providing consular support.

No more information could be confirmed due to privacy considerations.


The 64km road winds through mountainous terrain with a vertical descent 3,600m and was created by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s.

Graphic / NZHerald
Graphic / NZHerald

The first 20km of the road are paved asphalt but turn into a single-lane dirt road which features significant cliff-side drops.

Matthew's said the company was conducting its own investigation and co-operating with local and international authorities to uncover as many details as possible about the accident.

Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking was established by Matthews in 1998.

"Gravity has safely guided more than 100,000 clients down the road during this time, while Gravity has previously had one customer die of a heart attack, this is the first rider we have had die in a bicycle accident."

It was the first bicycle death for the company, the only other fatality occurred when a man died of a heart attack.

Bolivia is in central South America and the country covers sections of the Andes Mountains and Amazon Basin rainforest.