A Durban schoolboy has died of a suspected heart attack in a Gauteng hospital en route home from a sports tour of Hong Kong.

Thomas More College headmaster Shane Cuthbertson said Grade 11 pupil Blake Kerdachi was first feared to have contracted bird flu, but the hospital later ruled that out.

“They suspected he may have suffered a minor heart attack – perhaps a week ago – and subsequently catching flu had put too much strain on his heart,” he said.

On Friday night he underwent surgery in an attempt to restore blood flow to his heart muscles.

“Unfortunately, this did not succeed, as he passed away.

“He collapsed on the Dubai-to-Joburg leg of the flight home.”

The tour was struck by flu while in Hong Kong.

“Their last match was not played to the end because of it,” said Cuthbertson. “Two or three pupils went for medical treatment there. One was hospitalised and released in Hong Kong.”

Some of the other 36 pupils – boys on a rugby tour and girls on a netball tour – and five staff members have already been for tests for bird flu, with none testing positive.

The school advised all of them to be tested.“A number of hospitals don’t want to do the tests unless they first show symptoms,” Cuthbertson said, adding that they had advised parents to monitor them closely.

He said Blake’s mother, who is on the school’s staff, had happened to be in Joburg and his father had flown there on hearing his son was in trouble.

Cuthbertson said Blake was one of three tour members who had misplaced their passports and caught later flights than the rest. The other two had since arrived in Durban.

The principal said his death was “indeed a tragedy”.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kerdachi family.”

He said Blake had run a high temperature on the flight and been cared for on the plane.

Ross Tucker, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of the Free State, said it was not advisable to exercise when one had flu. The risk of sudden death was very high. But congenital conditions could also cause sudden death.

Last night Facebook was flooded with condolences for the Kerdachi family.

Cuthbertson said Blake was a keen sportsman who also played in the school’s first hockey team.

He was quiet and unassuming, and was “likeable and had talent without being arrogant”.