Thai cave rescue – World Cup class teamwork.

Respectfully dedicated to former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan.

As I write this we are currently in the latter stages of the football (ok, soccer to my American friends) world cup competition.  It’s hard to escape from it.  Even people who don’t follow football are quite taken up with the excitement.  The England football team are a few hours away from the semi final against Croatia.  This will be the first time England have made it this far in the World Cup since 1990 – 28 years ago.  Understandably most of England is excited and proud.  The English team consists of a group of professional athletes all at peak fitness and progressing this far in the competition is a testament to teamwork, dedication, hard work and perseverance.   The team are all household names and hailed as heroes.

I think the term ‘hero’ is overused.  Yes, I have a lot of respect for professional athletes at the top of their game and yes I have a lot of respect for the way most of our celebrity athletes use their fame and influence for good – inspiring young people into sport and being a positive member of society and away from crime.  It’s particularly pleasing to hear famous sports people recently helping to push the message about talking about mental health issues and helping to remove the stigma.  However, I will still be sparing with the ‘hero’ label.

Thailand hasn’t been involved in the World Cup, not sure if they have a national team.  I don’t know much about club football over there, I only know of one team (go you Nakhonratchasima Swat Cats!!).  However, over the last 18 days a Thai football team has been involved in their own competition: against rising flood water.  A group of 12 young boys from the ‘Wild Boars’ football team and their coach entered a cave system as a team building exercise and became trapped in the cave by rising water levels, not helped by the heavy rain.

An international team has worked around the clock to affect the rescue of the trapped group.  Rescuers from Australia, England, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Sweden and the USA have worked with Thai rescuers.  In a display of teamwork, perseverance, determination, hard work and bravery second to none the rescuers have shown the very best qualities of the human species.

Over the last three days the group was successfully retrieved from the caves.  Every one of the group was shown how to use cave diving equipment and then led by rescuers through approximately 3.2km (2 miles) of cave to the outside world and safety.  Part of the route was submerged and the boys had to swim tethered to a rescuer and part of the route was through dry caves where the boys were dragged on rescue stretchers.

I think everyone involved in this rescue, although not famous household names, deserve the title ‘hero’.

Tragically one of the rescuers paid the ultimate price.  Former Thai navy SEAL Saman Gunan was involved in the preparation for the rescue effort.  Initial thoughts when the trapped party were found was that they could be supported in the cave until the end of the monsoon and the water level would drop naturally making the rescue safer and easier.  The presence of hundreds of rescuers in the cave was using up the oxygen in the air increasing the risk of suffocation to the trapped boys so part of the support was to bring air containers into the cave.  Saman Gunan was returning from delivering one such air canister when he became unconscious.  His diving buddy tried to resuscitate him but was unsuccessful.

As we all turn our attention back to the football I think it’s nice to think of the joy felt by the families of the Wild Boar football team at their reunions with their children.  I can’t imagine the heartbreak felt by the family of Saman Gunan, I hope that they take some comfort from the fact that due to his sheer bravery the 12 boys and their coach survived.  A true hero.



Professor Stephen Hawking – Paying my respects

On 14th March 2018 Professor Stephen Hawking passed away.  This date is Albert Einstein’s birthday.  The Professor was born on January 8, 1942 – the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo – two bizarre coincidences linking him with two other giants in the scientific world.   These are some of my thoughts on the impact this man made on me.

I consider the professor to be inspirational on many levels; here are three levels which occur to me:

As a physicist.

As a young man I went to university to study physics.  Professor Hawking was one of the great minds in physics, particularly in the areas of physics which interested me most – cosmology.  He pushed back the frontier of knowledge of the extreme conditions in and very close to black holes.  Although now I am obviously in a totally different career, I still enjoy following the developments of science.  I don’t claim to have the intelligence to be able to follow the details of modern physics but Professor Hawking was one of the scientists who had a knack of being able to explain complex physical phenomena so that us ‘normal’ people can understand (well, almost understand).


As a man determined to live life to the full.

As a young man Professor Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, a crippling, degenerative disease and was only given a few years to live.  I can’t imagine the degree of torment and despair this must have caused him but he still managed to live a family life, to forge a brilliant career and travel the world giving lectures to educate and inspire scientists.  Even when the disease took away his ability to talk he still gave lectures using his electronic voice simulator. His travels included a ride in the zero gravity experience plane. He obviously managed to maintain a sense of humour, he appeared in an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, an episode of ‘Futurama’, an episode of ‘Star Trek – The Next Generation’ and was credited as a guest vocalist on two Pink Floyd songs.


As a supporter of the NHS.

Professor Hawking was a great supporter of the NHS, our healthcare system here in the UK.  He spoke out publicly in support of the system and spoke against the underfunding and lack of support from the current political regime, much to the irritation of our ruling politicians.  An absolute hero to all of us who care about or work in the NHS.


To end this blog I would like to send my thoughts and condolences to his family and friends and include my favourite Stephen Hawking quote:

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”  Professor Hawking 2016.

Professor Stephen Hawking.   1942 – 2018.