Leandro Gerardo, 32, who lives in Bangkok where he works as a professional senior technical diver, sent his family a brief WhatsApp message to let them know he was joining the rescue team to “help” supply oxygen and assist with stretchers, his older brother, Ramiro Gerardo, 34, told The Mercury on Wednesday.
While Leandro could not be contacted on Wednesday as he was travelling, Gerardo said his brother had said on Monday that he was cutting his job short to volunteer at the cave rescue.
“He said, ‘mom, don’t worry, I’m just going to be supplying oxygen and helping with the stretchers’,” Gerardo said.
Gerardo added that Leandro, who was trained in Durban by the Sub-Tech Group, had been working and travelling through Thailand and neighbouring countries since leaving South Africa in 2005.
“As soon as he qualified as a dive technician, he started improving his skills and qualifications by working and travelling around the globe. By the age of 25 he was already designing and manufacturing sophisticated equipment for divers,” he said.
Gerardo added that several of his brother’s colleagues who work with him at Mermaid Subsea Services had already joined the rescue mission and he decided to follow suit.
Gerardo said he and the family had been praying for him during the rescue operation, although he had the utmost confidence in his brother’s diving skills. He said he understood that Leandro had joined the rescue team late on Monday and had ended up on the team in charge of chamber three inside the cave where the boys and their coach had been trapped on a ledge along a 4.7km route from the entrance.
“He ended up helping the navy SEALs carry the boys out on stretchers. He was at chamber 3, which is about 2.9km into the cave. He described it as swimming through chocolate water, the temperatures were low and he had to swim through a hole the size of a car tyre,” Gerardo revealed.
“There was little contact until yesterday when he messaged: ‘Just leaving chamber three. All the boys are safe.’ He was in the cave with 18 divers and five navy SEALs. The last five boys were taken to the surface by his team,” Gerardo said.
He said rescuers taught the boys how to swim and how to do divers’ underwater hand signals to indicate their condition.
“He was extremely proud to be with the international team of divers and praised the volunteers profusely. He was very humble about the whole thing but my sister went wild on social media.”
Gerardo added that Leandro had mentioned that he had met Elon Musk at the cave, where rescuers had realised it would be technically impossible to drill down to reach the boys trapped inside.
“I wasn’t worried for a second. Of course my mom was. I have been on recreational dives with him and know that technically he is very capable. He’s probably one of the best technical divers in the world.
“He has been cave diving and has dived shipwrecks. He has been involved in a couple of rescues before.
“His family are extremely proud of him.”
Leandro, who was born in Argentina, came to South Africa at a young age and matriculated at Pinetown Boys High School.