Everyone who’s ever been in school knows how great field trips were. Whether it was a trip to the zoo, or even to the local bowling alley, getting away from the classroom for a day was the best thing for breaking up months of monotony.
For one group of young men and their coach, however, what started out as an exciting though routine field trip would prove to be a harrowing, life-or-death situation…
The group of boys and their coach were all from the Moo Pa soccer academy in Thailand. The coach, a 25-year-old who had been with the team for a while, was taking the assemblage of 11 to 16-year-old boys to visit an ancient cave system in their native Thailand. It would prove to be the adventure of their lifetimes.
A few days after the soccer team went up into the wilderness to investigate the cave, the entire group of them disappeared. They had food with them of course, but not much, not enough to last 13 of them more than a couple days. Despite the fact that they were all athletes, being lost in the wilderness was not something they could possibly have been prepared for…
Immediately, the Thai government began to scramble search teams. It was monsoon season and the chance of heavy rains and flooding were both very real, very worrying possibilities. If the team and their coach were in the caves, it would be only a matter of time before the flooding jungles overtook them.
Time is Running Out
Drones and helicopters that had been previously flying over the area were stymied by the rain and time was running short. The fact was, the complex caves of northern Thailand were a subterranean maze of pitfalls and sinkholes, getting into them to search for the boys, let alone getting them out, was going to be a real challenge…
They didn’t know for sure, but it was the belief amongst the rescuers and the government that the boys were still in the caves. That they’d gotten turned around or trapped down there due to sudden storms. By then it had been 72 hours since their disappearance and they would have to start bringing in diving teams to search the perilous caves.
Narrow the Search Area
The six-mile-long stretch of subterranean caverns that make up the Tham Luang Nang Non caves are some of the most beautiful in the world, but they also happen to be some of the most treacherous. Finally, after days of searching, the diving team found evidence of something inside one of the deepest caves…
There, perched on a small ledge along the cave, were the boys and their coach. They were located between 300 and 400 yards beyond the section of the cage that was on higher ground. This was what the Thai government had been worried about. If they stayed where they were, the cave would flood and drown them all.
With the exception of some injuries to their legs and feet, all of the boys were in pretty good condition. Not only that, but all 12 of them were alive and well, as was their coach. They were hungry of course, and tired, as it’s hard to sleep in a damp cave with 12 other people. Finding them was only half the battle, however…
By the time they had been found and the government had begun to facilitate their rescue, several days had passed. With each passing day, the prospect of their rescue became even more difficult to envision. Before they could do that though, they needed to supply the boys with extra rations to keep them going.
Navy Captain Anand Surawan, of Thailand’s Armed Forces, announced that they were preparing to send them additional food, enough that they could be sustained for up to four months if they needed. At the same time, an experienced diver and medical professional would be sent down to tend to any lingering wounds. They had to consider other options for the rescue though…
Experts believed that it could take many weeks for the monsoon flood waters to recede and they couldn’t just keep sending in supplies, especially if there was a resurgence of rains. The other option was to drill a hole elsewhere in the caves and attempt to rescue the group from there.
Finding alternative entrances was also going to take time. It was essential that they try another method. The Thailand Armed Forces brought in expert divers from other countries to assist them in going in to get the boys out. Their plan was one that would hinge not only on the experts but the survival instincts of the trapped soccer team as well…
Their best plan to get the boys and coach out was to bring American cave rescue expert, Anmar Mirza to help extract them. This plan of just bringing them out wasn’t going to work, however. “Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible…even if the dives are relatively easy,” explained Mirza.
Mirza’s solution was to teach the children and their coach to dive. Diving in caves, even for an expert, is fraught with difficulties. The caves are narrow, visibility is poor, and if one gets lost underwater and can’t find up, they can run out of air and drown in no time at all. Still, this was the only solution to the growing problem of even more flooding…
They were under the gun too now, because the forecast over the following days was for even more rain. As the water rose, teaching the kids to dive would become that much more important, but also difficult. They needed to teach them as fast as possible and hope that they took the lessons to heart when the time finally came.
Camping and Waiting
As the soccer team struggled with their life-saving diving lessons, their family members waited patiently outside the mouth of the cave. They had been elated to learn their boys were alive and as soon as the monsoon broke, drove out to the jungle to support the rescue effort and await their safe return, or at least, what they hoped would be their safe return…
Throughout all of the planning, the rescue team worried that they might not be successful. Many of the boys couldn’t even swim, and certainly not well enough to navigate their way through rising cave waters. Some people suggested they tranquilize the boys and carry them out, lest they panic, but that too would never have worked.
What followed was one of the most daring and creative rescue missions in history. The team was fitted with dive gear and led through the labyrinthian confines of the treacherous cave by a team of experts. They were told to stay close and keep their group in sight. The world waited with baited breath for any sign of them…
During the course of the 18-day ordeal, one experienced volunteer diver even met his end. Ultimately though, Thailand’s Navy SEALs and a slew of volunteer divers from around the world were central to the rescue effort and through many shifts, they brought all thirteen people from the cave safely.
Cheers erupted as one by one, all of the teens and their coach came into sight at the cave entrance. They were brought to a local hospital, but despite their harrowing 18-day journey, none of them were any worse for wear. “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars (the name of the team) are now out of the cave…Everyone is safe.” said a spokesman for the SEALs said.