The saga started on June 23 when the Wild Boars football team comprised of 12 boys aged 11 to 16 with their 25-year-old assistant coach entered the Tham Luang cave complex and were trapped when monsoon flooding blocked their exit. Nine days later two British divers found them 4Km inside the cave perched on a ledge, emancipated but calm and showing no fear or panic. Getting them out due to heavy continuous rains seemed impossible. The saga was turning heart wrenching. The boys knew no scuba diving nor were good swimmers. All attempts like massive pumping out of water and drilling were attempted and given up as futile. Expert divers and consultants from all over the world and over 1000 correspondents/reporters descended all freely offering help. The boys were fortified with food and nourishment, however air in the cave was depleting, waiting till the monsoons lifted and water went down would take ages.
The only way was to sedate the weakened boys and carry them out one by one, with divers’ front and back with their air cylinders, monitored en route the 6 hour passage by a doctor, down underwater and up climbing slopes and winding tunnels with narrow passages in the pitch dark with only a guiding rope that had been rigged! The 18-day ordeal was successfully accomplished with all of them brought out to safety. One of the experienced divers, who reportedly were ensuring all the divers had full cylinders, neglected his own in all the hurry and anxiety. He ran out of oxygen during the search and died!
How providence worked is another wonder, the two best cave experienced divers in the world to be there and an Australian anesthetic doctor expert diver, for without them this would not have been possible. The rescued boys were taken to a hospital and kept under observation. No one, not even their parents were permitted to see them so they could recover fast and be cleared of any acquired bugs/life threatening contagion. After all that they had gone through, amazingly all were happy even in hospital isolation. The dramatic miraculous rescue and cheerful conclusion hid the meticulous planning, decision making, attitude of the people and world wide support and prayers. The world was able to get constant updates on the saga, government and local citizens coming together, working together in the planning and decisions jointly made at a high tech command centre with a Rescue Chief in sole command.
This mission was not only about leadership, disaster management, the rescue team’s heroism and technological brilliance, but also the example it set in humanness and bringing out the best in mankind. We have to notice that there was no one specific designated hero, no interference from politicians/VIPs and media kept out under control, no confusion in spokespersons jumping to conclusions or giving contrary reports. Everyone from the King to PM and citizens helped in whatever way they positively could. NGOs spontaneously took care of the diver’s laundry, halal nourishment for Muslim personnel and no acrimony exhibited in food types, caste, creed or religion! The farmers whose fields were inundated due pumping out water from the caves said never mind, saving the boys were more important. After the mission was accomplished, reportedly the pumps were not dismantled along with the heavy grade machinery until water was pumped out from their fields. Farmers thereafter refused government compensation for damaged crops!
This young football team is from poor families; from a troubled area and reportedly do not even have a nationality! From where did they get the qualities that enabled them to survive calmly in the harshest of circumstances? Their accompanying coach, trained as Buddhist monk, kept them hopeful, with personal example, meditation, positive attitude and was the last to exit the cave! None of the parents pressurized the authorities to rescue their son first and what stands out is that there was neither attempted interference political or bureaucratic nor any one-upmanship! Further no one bothered about the boys religion, caste, rich or poor or any other criterion other than they were human beings and everyone’s children to be saved at all costs! The rescue was as per institutional norms/SOPs minus blame game and any selfish self serving or political motives. The government provided the finances required, supplies, army and went out of its way to help/clear all obstacles 24/7!
The Press could not falsely sensationalise the issue, interview the parents asking them insane questions bombarding viewers with trivia etc as all were kept clear away from the cave, divers or the children. The cultural strand was exhibited as a society of compassion, communal harmony, humility, tolerance and discipline. There was no unethical or extortionate snarling behavior during rescue at any time.
On successful completion of the task, no one was permitted to enter the cave. Post hospitalisation, the public relations department carefully and psychologically monitored a press conference with the team and advised their parents no journalist contact for a month. We will of course see a fast buck to be made out of this episode in due course by a movie about this real life “mission impossible” or the caves used commercially as museum or tourist’s attraction and so on. As recorded above, the many lessons to be drawn, especially for us in India are glaringly obvious?
(The author is a retired naval officer)