Cheston Omo of Anahola was busy doing chores for his aunt in ‘Anini yesterday afternoon when he heard a frantic call for help.
Dropping everything, the 24-year-old grabbed his kayak and was able to save the life of a swimmer in distress.
Mike Gerber, from Austin, Texas, was snorkeling with his daughter when he realized they were in deeper water than expected. The two were being swept out to Backdoor Channel at Anini Beach Park. His daughter managed to make it back to shore but Gerber was in danger of drowning.
“The tide was rising,” Omo said. “It was pretty big surf, there were a lot of currents.”
In fact, Gerber was sucked out the channel where the waves boasted 10- to 16-foot faces, officials said.
When emergency responders arrived on-scene after receiving a call around 1:50 p.m., Omo was already returning to the shore with Gerber, said Kurt Leong, captain of the Hanalei Fire Station.
Such heroism is worthy of praise, he said.
“I think this story is so worthy of attention,” Leong said.
Gerber was roughly 100 yards away from shore and was almost at the breakline, Omo said.
“It was just instinct,” Omo said, modestly. “I told him, ‘Hold onto the front,’ where he could reach. He was exhausted. He could barely even talk.”
Then Omo took him in to safety, returning Gerber to his daughter, son and wife.
“It was a near-drowning,” Leong said. “He had some water in his lungs. We released him at-scene because we couldn’t make him stay, but we told him he should go to the hospital.”
Had Omo not stepped in, Gerber would have become another statistic, Leong added.
This was the first time Omo has saved another life. His grandfather is longtime ‘Anini resident, the late Jack Hashimoto, Leong said.
Because ‘Anini beach has seen its share of rescues, locals pay attention, Omo said, noting a broken surfboard from a previous rescue remains on the family’s property “just in case.”
Omo, who recently started his own landscaping business, Aloha ‘Aina Landscape Maintenance, said he will continue to keep an “eye out.”
“I’m a water person, I know the place. I surf, dive, everything — I’m like a fish.”
• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or email@example.com.