My VIPs for this week are the many heroes who risked their own lives to save the lives of members of a soccer team. On June 23, 2018, twelve young soccer players and their coach went missing, and their rescuers did not know where they were or if they were still alive. Ten days later the boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were found deep in a system of caves, trapped by rising water.
The situation was so risky that the rescue took two weeks to complete. Some of the “world’s most experienced cave divers” assisted in the rescue that was described as being “unprecedented” due to the “complexity, scale and risk of the operation.”
The boys and their coach were brought out in small groups with each rescue mission lasting approximately nine-hours and the boys being underwater for four to six hours.
Each boy was accompanied underwater by two divers carrying their oxygen tanks for them, and guiding them through the murky tunnels. The most dangerous part of the journey out of the labyrinthine cave system was the first kilometer, during which they were required to squeeze through a narrow flooded channel.
Having completed this section, the boys were then handed over to separate, specialist rescue teams, who helped them through the remainder of the cave, much of which they could wade through.
The boys are considered to be in good condition even though they lost an average of more than four pounds each. They did not eat for nine days and drank water that dripped from the sides of the cave. They were taken directly to a hospital and put in isolation. They will be kept in the hospital until their immune systems recover. The young coach, Ekkapol Ake Chantawong who is a former monk, is being credited for the relative good health of his players.
There were many heroes involved in the rescue. The man directing the rescue is Narongsak Osottanakorn, age 57. He is currently the governor of Chiang Rai, Thailand – the area where the caves are located. He studied geodetic engineering and surveying and received a Master’s Degree from Ohio State University in 1988. He was instrumental in launching the first rescue efforts after the team was discovered. He had the difficult assignment of handling the media and meeting with the boys’ families each day.
Another hero is Richard Harris, an anesthetist and underwater cave explorer who was part of a 20-member group of rescuers from Australia. He was the last man out of the cave on Tuesday. He is described as a “quiet and kind man” who “didn’t think twice about offering his support on this mission.” He exited the cave to learn that his father had passed away just after the completion of the successful rescue mission.
The Thailand Navy SEALs is an important group of rescuers. They were among the first on the scene and remained there for the duration. They came late at night, and the first team of six entered the “dark, uncharted waters” at 2:00 a.m. There were eighteen SEALs at the beginning, a number that swelled to more than sixty at one time. They are considered to be the “true saviors” of the Wild Boar soccer team. They lost one of their members, Petty Officer First Class Samarn Kunan, who sacrificed his life to rescue the boys. He volunteered to distribute oxygen tasks for the divers along the route of rescue and was found unconscious by another diver.
Another hero is Pak Loharnshoon who is described as being “multi-talented.” He is an Army doctor and completed SEAL training. This combination of skills made him “unusually qualified for the task.” He spent several nights in the cave with the boys, nursing them back to health and preparing them for their escape. He is known as the “Doctor-Diver” and is considered to be “crucial to the success of the rescue.”
There are hundreds of other heroes who took part in the rescue mission, all of whom deserve to be mentioned. Their sacrifice of time and effort and their willingness to sacrifice their lives are worthy of fame.