Not all superheroes wear capes. This South African wears a wetsuit
A former Durbanite played a key role in the modern-day ‘Mission Impossible' to rescue the Thai cave boys
“Uncle Leo is so brave, like a superhero”.
That’s how the nephew of former South African Leandro Gerardo regards his uncle after the expert diver was part of a daring rescue of 12 Thai boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Chiang Rai province, Thailand.
The former Pinetown Boys’ High School pupil left South Africa in 2005 to work and travel overseas after qualifying as a dive technician.
Gerardo, 32, who now lives in Bangkok, volunteered to be part of “mission impossible” after his colleagues at Mermaid Subsea Services joined the rescue operation.
The boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their coach ventured into the Tham Luang cave in mountainous northern Thailand on June 23 after football practice and got trapped when heavy rains caused flooding, forcing them to take shelter on a muddy ledge.
They spent nine days in darkness until two British divers found them.
But the initial euphoria at finding them dissipated as authorities struggled to devise a safe plan to get them out.With oxygen levels in their chamber falling to dangerous levels and monsoon rains threatening to flood the cave above the ledge where the boys were sheltering, rescuers decided on the least-worst option of having divers escort them out through the tunnels.
The escape route was a challenge for even experienced divers. The boys had no previous diving experience so the rescuers trained them how to use a mask and breathe underwater via an oxygen tank.
Gerardo has chosen to not to speak about his brave efforts.
A Durban-based acquaintance, who asked not to be named, told Times Select on Thursday: “I just spoke to Leandro. He has taken the decision not to talk to any media. He is pretty insistent.”
But his friends and family could hardly contain their pride, posting on social media about the bold rescue Gerardo undertook with fellow volunteers and Thai Navy Seals.
A former schoolmate, Dwanye Saunders, posted: “Would just like to give a massive shout out to one of my best mates, Leandro Gerardo, his team and the rest of the people involved with helping retrieve all the Thai Football Kids and their Coach safely from the flooded Cave in Thailand, that has been on the news all around the world the last few days!”
Saunders said Gerardo and other advanced divers were in charge of chamber three – “a section which was 2.5km deep into the cave over dangerous walkthroughs & swimthroughs, where they had to pass oxygen bottles and the stretchers with the boys on and help get it to the next section safely”.
“The rescue took three days, where they tirelessly worked getting four kids out the first day, four the third day and five on the last day where they finished around 6pm – all whilst facing the massive risk of more flooding,” said Saunders.
His sister, Lucia Gerardo-Schefermann, described him as “an absolute legend”.
“In the words of Jack – ‘Uncle Leo is so brave, like a superhero’.”