What was supposed to be an hour-long cave exploration adventure has suddenly become a two-week-long fight for survival for the 12 young kids and their coach. And it all began with a birthday celebration.
A Birthday Celebration Gone Wrong
On June 23 of last year, a young member of the local youth football team the Wild Boars invited his 11 teammates and their young coach for some off-the-road adventure after soccer practice.
Of all the places they could have gone, they chose Tham Luang. Tham Luang or “the great cave of the sleeping lady” is a 6-mile cave complex that is riddled with dangerous twists and fatal chokepoints.
Located at Mae Sai, a sleepy town in Chiang Rai Province of Thailand, the place wasn’t supposed to be your ordinary travel destination. During the rainy days, the interior of the cave can flood up to 5 meters in depth. Reports were rife of cave explorers going missing in Tham Luang.
However, these boys were so pumped up to ever consider the risk they’re facing.
It took nine days before rescue divers were able to locate the team sheltering on a piece of rock boulder, surrounded by an ever-increasing water level.
Navy Soldiers Flooding the Tham Luang Cave During Rescure | AFP PHOTO – Royal Thai Navy
That very same day, instead of a birthday party, a search party comprised of the parents of the kids set off to locate the whereabouts of the 13 young individuals. They found bicycles and other personal belongings of the boys at the cave entrance.
Meanwhile, the Wild Boars had gone 4 miles deep inside the cave complex when the water started to rise. This was the moment they feared the most. The boys realized they could no longer get out of the place, at least in a breathing state.
Rescue Mission Began
The mission chief and governor of Chiang Rai Province, Nargongsak Osottanakorn, immediately convened a task force to rescue the footballers. The first order of business was to empty the cave of water which they did so by the use of water pumps.
Gallons upon gallons of water were pumped out. This was in a frantic effort to at least clear the passage for rescue scuba divers, with members including the Thai Navy Seals, to pass through.
However, the force of the water current was too strong for the rescue team. This made it nearly impossible for them to reach the interiors of Tham Luang.
Thai Rescue Pumping Water | Dept of Defense
Clinging On to Dear Life
Inside, the boys were struggling with thirst and hunger. Luckily for them, they had a steady supply of drinkable water in the form of liquid drippings from the stalactites.
They were even more fortunate to have their coach accompanying them during this dilemma. Coach Ek, as he’s called, happens to be a former monk student. He gave the kids crash course on meditation which, according to him, helped them conserve energy as well as keeping them calm in those trying times.
A Supportive Community
It was well into the third day since the rescue mission began when the on-going incident caught the world’s attention. More than 1,500 journalists from all over the globe flocked in Mae Sai to cover the grueling event.
Not only the press: survival specialists from the US, France, the UK, and Australia came in to lend a hand. These brave people were instrumental in the discovery and rescue of the 12 young boys.
Support groups were also coming over to offer what they can to help alleviate the situation. Massage shops set up make-shift venues to ease out the stress felt by everyone else during those days. And they did it all for free.
Soon, a number of food stalls began popping up throughout the site, giving warm meals for everyone involved in the rescue efforts.
Buddhist monks were also present to offer prayers while at the same time consoling the parents of the kids. The families, by the way, refused to leave the site not until they see their children come out of the peril.
The Second of July
This was supposed to be a memorable date for everyone. It was on this day that British divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton made a distance breakthrough to find the poor lost souls.
More than a couple of miles from the main entrance of Tham Luang cave, the two divers finally found the 12 boys and their coach alive albeit struggling to make themselves comfortable while being stranded on a piece of boulder surrounded by water. The discovery was recorded on both divers’ body cameras.
Blood Has Been Shed
It was already the 6th of July. The usual routine was for the volunteer-divers to deliver provision including food, water, and air tanks to the boys inside the cave. This was the temporary situation while the rescue organizers were still working on how to safely get the boys out.
One of the divers who did the run was a former Navy Seal diver Saman Gunan. While on his way, Gunan ran out of air and lost consciousness. His buddy tried to revive him but he could not be saved.
Gunan’s funeral was held that day and Buddhist monks were there to officiate the rites.