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‘He was a fantastic guy’

Friends, colleagues remember lost researcher

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U of M researcher Dr. Klaus Hochheim, pictured above in a 2008 photo, died on Sept. 9 when the helicopter he was on during a routine ice-measurement surveying flight went down in the Arctic Ocean. Dr. David Barber, a friend and U of M colleague, described him as “a fantastic guy.”

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U of M researcher Dr. Klaus Hochheim, pictured above in a 2008 photo, died on Sept. 9 when the helicopter he was on during a routine ice-measurement surveying flight went down in the Arctic Ocean. Dr. David Barber, a friend and U of M colleague, described him as “a fantastic guy.” Photo Store

Dr. Klaus Hochheim was more than just a scientist.

"He was a fantastic guy," said Dr. David Barber, associate dean of research for the faculty of environment at the University of Manitoba, a Canada research chair, and close family friend of Hochheim’s for more than 30 years. "Most people think that scientists are inaccessible people and somewhat crusty, but Klaus was none of those things."

Hochheim was a U of M climatologist and researcher. He had been on the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen, and was three days into the second rotation of a $15-million climate change research project. The project was announced in March 2013 by the Centre for Earth Observation Science (CEOS) at the U of M.

Hochheim was onboard the ship’s helicopter during a routine ice-measurement surveying flight, with pilot Daniel Dubé and Amundsen commanding officer Marc Thibault, when something went wrong en route back to the ship.

"They had completed the survey and they were on their way back to the ship, and they had radioed the ship to tell them to prepare the helideck," said Barber. "(The crew) did that, but the helicopter never arrived."

After attempting to reach the helicopter again to no avail, the Amundsen made its way to the location of the helicopter’s last radio transmission. That is where they found where the helicopter had crashed in the Arctic Ocean, said Barber. All three men died in the crash. Hochheim was 55-years-old.

"Klaus was a friend and colleague. We’re devastated at the news of his passing," said Tim Papakyriakou, director of the Centre for Earth Observation Science, in a release. "He was a veteran of high Arctic field campaigns and an outstanding research scientist."

Barber was on the Amundsen just a few days before Hochheim, on the first rotation of the project. He said questions of safety always come up.

"The Arctic is a dangerous place, we know that," said Barber. "The scientists are always in harm’s way when they are in the field, but the Amundsen is actually the safest platform we have available to us. So I’m always least concerned when people are onboard the Amundsen."

Barber said losing Hochheim is a huge loss for sea ice research.

"There are very few scientists that work on sea ice," said Barber. "There is now a hole at that level of our program and we will work to fill in that gap with younger people as they get more expertise, but it takes time to build that knowledge, it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes decades to build up the knowledge that we lost with Klaus."

Dr. David Barnard, U of M president and vice-chancellor, described Hochheim in a release as "one of our most remarkable graduates."

"His loss will have a lasting effect on his colleagues at the Centre for Earth Observation Science and many others here at the University of Manitoba," Barnard states in the release.

Hochheim leaves behind his wife, Martha, and three children, Carl, Laura, and Kristen. Barber said the family is devastated by the loss, but added they are a very strong family.

"They are a very closely-knit family," said Barber. "So they are doing the same grieving that the rest of us are doing and just trying to find a way through this tremendous tragedy."

What struck Barber most about his friend was his love of science.

"He’s one of these guys that managed to keep the curiosity that we have when we are children," said Barber. "When we are young we are curious about everything, and we have this innocence of how we go about the world and look at it — that’s the way he was."

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