Lesson to be learned as Thai cave drama ends happily

The rescue of the young soccer players and their coach brought international attention, cooperation and despair when a diver died; now the flood-prone attraction should be closed during the rainy season and warnings issued

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:10am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:48pm

If the drama had not been playing out before our eyes from afar for days, it would have been difficult to imagine the plight and rescue against the odds – and the clock – of the Thai youth soccer team and its coach trapped in a waterlogged cave for more than two weeks.

It would have seemed like tempting fate to imagine that they could all be extracted safely from such a perilous situation. The drama with its happy ending is so astonishing you couldn’t make it up, as the saying goes.

The living proof that 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are now safe and recovering from their ordeal is to be found in a hospital in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, where they were rushed for medical checks as they surfaced one by one with their rescuers.

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People the world over share elated relief, following news that the last group of four boys and their coach had emerged safely from a treacherous 4km escape route in which they had to dive through dark, tight and winding passages.

It almost seems unfair given the seemingly flawless search and rescue operation that the relief is tinged with sadness over the death in the cave of a former Thai Navy Seal diver, 38, who came out of retirement to help.

That he ran out of oxygen when overtaken by a flash flood while returning from delivering oxygen canisters, as the boys waited for rescue perched on a rock ledge, is testament to the death-defying nature of the rescue.

It seems scarcely credible that boys, some of them non-swimmers, who had only been learning to dive for a week, could have met such a challenge without potentially fatal misadventure, such as panic in the dark water.

Boys soccer team and coach all pulled out safely from flooded Thai cave as rescue mission reaches dramatic conclusion

It says something about the bonds of trust and teamwork among search and rescue elites who undertake difficult missions in the most dangerous places, and the value of international partnerships, that those who found and saved the boys come from up to a dozen countries.

They included Chinese from the Beijing Peaceland Foundation, which has more than 100 teams with relevant expertise in mountainous parts of Myanmar and Nepal. Thailand is to be commended for openly welcoming foreign help.

This drama began with discovery of the missing boys’ bicycles at the entrance to the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex.

Questions will be asked about how their owners could have preceded on foot into the caves in the shadows of monsoon rains that soon stranded them.

What could their coach and even the older boys have been thinking? That said, the coach seems to have done all the right things since then.

We will have to wait for answers. But surely the authorities do not have to wait before considering shutting down access to flood-prone caves during the rainy season as well as issuing warnings.