Thailand: The Miraculous Cave Rescue and The Movies Inspired By It

Jun 20, 2019 | Gov, News, Pop, Thailand

by Arvin Donguines

Navy Soldiers Flooding the Tham Luang Cave During Rescue | AFP PHOTO – Royal Thai Navy

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

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

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. 

A Pressing Situation

Oxygen levels in the chamber were the boys were already had fallen to less than 20%.
The efforts to pump water out from the cave seemed to no avail. It was estimated to take at least four months of pumping before the rescuers can safely pass through. There were also no alternative passages found that they could use. Drilling one wasn’t an option either.

On July 7, exactly two weeks since the 12 Wild Boars got trapped inside the cave, the Thai authorities finally issued an order to pull out the boys – by hook or by crook.

The decision was made after officials realized that the rain hasn’t stopped falling for days already. According to the locals, if the weather won’t change, the entire cave system would be completely submerged by water.

A Risky Operation

More than a hundred Thai and foreign scuba divers suited up to finally make the incredible feat. The world held its breath while the volunteers disappeared into the darkness.

Despite the trail already been mapped out, the journey inside the cave was still difficult. They have to brave the pitch dark and endure the chilling water as they dived into the narrow passageways.

Upon arriving, each boy was made to wear a full-face oxygen mask. A professional diver was also besides to accompany them.

The process to get them through from the point in which they were stranded and out to the surface was excruciating, to say the least. In fact, it took a couple of days before the entire operation was completed.

Jubilation and Remediation

None can be said enough how happy everyone was in Chiang Rai when it was confirmed that the 12 boys, including their coach, were finally out from the cave, safe and sound.

The now-famous 13 were then taken to hospital for a routine check-up on their well-being. Meanwhile, the media was hankering to get a glimpse of the Wild Boars.

Chiang Rai, and the once sleepy town of Mae Sai will forever be put on anyone’s consciousness for being a place where bravery and unity conquered the impossible. 

Movie In the Works

For a real-life drama to be as thrilling and suspenseful as the Tham Luang rescue, it deserves to be immortalized not only in everyone’s memory but also in films.

According to reports, there are currently six movies under development detailing the Tham Luang cave rescue.

One of the projects that are now ready for viewing this year is entitled “The Cave.” Directed by Thai-Irish director Tom Waller, the film features actual persons who were involved in the rescue mission last year.

Filming locations include Chiang Rai province, particularly in Mae Sai, where much of the local community took part in the production. Although there were also scenes shot in foreign places such as in China, Japan, Hawaii, and Ireland, a report from BBC said.

“The Cave” is slated for a theatrical release in September 2019.

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