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.