After Action Report -Thai Cave Rescue


In their first public appearance since emerging from their ten-day ordeal in the cave, the boys recounted their side of an extraordinary story that captured the imagination of the world.


(Photo courtesy (Vincent Thian/The Associated Press)

A packed crowd greeted the youngsters after they were discharged from hospital in Chiang Rai, and watched as they played with footballs on a small makeshift pitch before taking their seats.

Sitting beside the boys were the Thai Navy SEALs who stayed inside the cave with them after they were found, as well as members of the medical team who looked after them after the rescue.

Thai authorities organised a  press conference, for which questions were pre-screened,  More than 100 questions were sent in by the media, though only a handful were selected.   The media was urged to give the boys uninterrupted time with their families so as not to harm their recovery

Dressed in matching team shirts, the boys and their coach Ake appeared happy and relaxed as they faced the world’s media.  The boys introduced themselves  with their nicknames and the position they played on the team.

The largely joyous mood of the press conference was tempered, however, when the boys and Ake discussed the loss of Saman Kunan, the former Thai Navy SEAL who had died during the rescue effort. Ake said the team were shocked to learn of Saman Kunan’s death, called him a hero.   In memory of the navy diver, Ake and the boys decided to spend time as novice Buddhist monks — a practice considered a high honour in Thailand.

The boys thanked their rescuers and medical staff, and paid tribute to Kunan. They also bowed before a portrait of the Thai king.

The boys explained as to when they realised that they were trapped, how they adapted to their surroundings and their eventual joy at being found, ten days later.  They described their rescue as a miracle, thanked the experts who saved them and discussed how the experience would affect the rest of their lives.

Contrary to the belief that the team entered the cave complex to celebrate the birthday of Night on the day the team went missing, Ake said that the boys were merely curious to look inside as some of them had never been there before.  He said it was not unusual for the group to participate in group activities after soccer practice on Saturday afternoons.

They explored the caves for about an hour, before deciding to return.   By this time the cave had become partially flooded and their exit was blocked.   All the boys can swim, country to earlier reports, and they to swam to safety when the water started rising.

At his point, they realised that they were trapped. With no obvious way out, the group retreated about 200 meter further into the cave to find somewhere to rest for the night.

There they found a bit of slope with a small water source,  Ake instructed the team to drink water dripping from the roof of the cave as it would be purer than the dirty floodwater on the floor.   Having eaten after soccer practice, the boys had no food during their ordeal.  Instead, they drank water from the cave.

Before they slept, Ake told them to say a prayer and they prayed that night. The team were not scared and Ake hoped the water level would drop the next day, and that help would arrive.

The waters did not subside, however.  Instead the levels rose fast.  Ake ordered the group to find higher ground. Concerned that they might soon be submerged, he instructed the boys to start digging and look for a potential exit.  They managed to burrow a hole into the cave in shifts after the water rose by three meter.

Adun, the only member who spoke English, responded with a “Hello”  in disbelief  to the first British diver who reached the group.  Adun, like other members of the group, was busy digging — looking for a possible way out — when some of the boys thought they heard the sound of people talking.  Ake instructed the group to stay quiet. He asked one of the boys to move closer to the ledge and shine a flashlight on the water, but the boy was too scared, and Adun volunteered instead.

The boys described how they formed a bond with the Thai Navy SEALs who remained with them in the cave while rescuers worked out a plan to free them. They played checkers — and one of the Navy SEALs sitting alongside them at the press conference always won.   This SEAL was titled ‘King of the Cave.  One SEAL had spent most of the time in just his underwear and a small piece of foil, having stripped off his clothes to give to the boys to keep warm.

None of the boys wanted to leave the cave first when rescuers asked for volunteers when the decision was made to extract the boys through the floodwaters.  Ake joked he and the boys made the decision on who should go first based on who lived the furthest away. Ake thought the rescued kids would go straight home and those who got out first could spread the word.

When asked about the lessons they’ve learned from the incident, Ake said he was going to live life more carefully.   Ardun said though people can’t predict the future, the experience had taught him about the consequences of acting carelessly.   Other boys said though they still dreamed of becoming soccer players, some said they now wanted to become Navy SEALs.

The boys and Ake apologised to their parents for not telling them they went to the cave.

Thai authorities are concerned about their long-term psychological health.  They urged the media to respect the boys’ privacy in the future, out of concern for their mental health.  They are also in the process of granting four team members who are stateless Thai citizenship.

The day after the press conference the boys were allowed to go home.   Doctors have advised their families that they should avoid contact with journalists for at least a month.

 

Wild Boar Boys Football Team Rescue Operations


Rescue operations of Thai Wild Boar Boys Football Team and coach, a group of ‘Unlucky Thirteen’ captured the world’s attention, as divers successfully brought them out of the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.  “The number 13 may be lucky or unlucky, but one cannot blame the number for it and will always follow number 12 and precede number 14” – from my blogpost ‘Arithmetic of Licence Plates.’

‘God Himself never did any miracle, but it was always through humans’, I had written in my earlier blogpost ‘Randomness of Life.’  We must thank the God Almighty for the efforts of the rescue team, but should never forget to thank all those members of the rescue team, who untiringly executed the dangerous rescue operation.


First, let us bow our heads and say a few prayers for Kunont, also known as Gunan or Kunan, who laid down his life, without caring for his personal safety.  He was part of the North Face Adventure Team, one of Thailand’s top trail runners and a former Navy Seal diver.

Kunont made his way through a submerged cave to bring oxygen.  He  then ran out of oxygen on his way back to the entrance, highlighting how hard it would be to rescue the boys untrained in diving.  On his way back he lost consciousness and  his friend tried to help bring him out.  Kunont, in a soldierly way, did the supreme sacrifice in trying to save others.


(Image Courtesy Australian Associated Press)

Dr Richard Harris, 53, an anesthesiologist from Adelaide, works for the South Australian Ambulance Services.  He is an expert in cave-diving.  He joined the rescue team on the request of British officials.

Risking his own life, Harris made the treacherous trip into the subterranean chamber to check on the boys after they had been trapped for more than two weeks.  After examining them, Harris recommended that the weakest of the boys be rescued before their stronger teammates — against the earlier opinion of saving the strongest first.


Ekapol Chantawong, affectionately known as “Ake,” is the assistant coach of the football team.  Ekapol had already cheated death; when he was just 10 years old.  His parents and brother were killed by a disease that ravaged his village, only sparing him.  He lived with extended family members for a short time after his family’s deaths, but felt sad and lonely.  This lead him to be a Buddhist Monk.

Ake would be there at the field waiting for kids to show up after school. According to him, it is a great way to keep the children healthy, away from modern gizmos and other diversions and also to interact with friends.  The members of the Wild Boars are a team on and off the soccer field, traveling to competitions, cycling mountain roads and swimming in waterfalls together.

The team entered the cave complex to celebrate the birthday of Peerapat Sompiangjai, nicknamed Night, turned 17 on 23 June, the day the team went missing.  Before they were found, the group had to survive for nine days in the darkness unaware of the desperate search efforts.

How did this team survive through the ordeal?

Air.    Most caves naturally ‘breathe’ through various pores and cracks.  However, as the days went on, oxygen levels dipped to about 15% where the team were huddled. The usual level is about 21%.  Ake, being a Buddhist Monk, had trained the team in breathing techniques to make sure they used as little air as possible,

Food.    The team had bought snacks to celebrate Night’s birthday, and it was these snacks that helped sustain them after getting trapped in the caves. Ake reportedly refused to eat any food so the boys would have more for themselves, leaving him the weakest when divers eventually found the team on 2 July.  What a great leader!

Water.    Humans  can survive for many months without food, but water is an absolute necessity.  As it was monsoon season, the cave had adequate water  and they chose clean water to drink,  Water dripping from the cave ceiling would have really helped.

Hypothermia.    It is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce.  It can often be a risk underground, especially in flooded caves.  The team used rocks to dig five metres deeper into the cave to create a tunnel so that they could keep warm.

Disorientation.   The team had to handle the total darkness of the cave, without any awareness of time or of the massive search efforts to find them.  Meditation training by Ake helped the team withstand disorientation.

Stress.   The efforts of Ake must have been instrumental in keeping them calm.  Meditation would have helped them handle the stress.

When the rescuers managed to get through to the team, they delivered letters from their families and took notes back to allow them communication with the outside world.  In his letter, Ake apologised to the parents for taking the boys into the cave network, but several replied to say they did not blame him.

“I promise I will take care of the kids as best as I can,” he wrote.

Lesson to be learnt from the rescue operations are:-

Planning and Coordination of Rescue Efforts.    Coordination between various Thai agencies and also international agencies ensured speedy rescue. A mission which was expected to take a few weeks was executed in few days.

Leadership of the Coach Ake.    Exemplary leadership demonstrated by the coach of Wild Boars football team in ensuring survival of the entire team.   Surely, he must be well trained in First-Aid, CPR, survival skills, child psychology, etc. Our son works as a Swimming Instructor and Life Guard in Canada and he is well trained in these aspects.

Team-Work.     The entire team of teens must have listened to their coach – else they would not have survived through this ordeal.

Trust in the Leader.    The coach must be enjoying a lot of trust and confidence of the team of teens for sure.

Dedication of the Rescue Team.     Despite losing a rescue diver, Saman Kunan, the rescue team endured to complete the dangerous mission.

Composition of Rescue Team.    A doctor with cave-diving experience first went into the chamber and approved the boys for the operation.

No VIPs.    The VIPs kept away from the scene, thus all resources like helicopters, road-space, etc were available to the rescue team.

No Media Presence.    Media and their camera crew were kept away from the scene and there were no reporters milling around to give the ‘latest situation reports.’

Crowd Management.    Local population appear to have cooperated with the authorities and there was no crowding – especially those with their cellphones – all ready to post images on the social media.


Quarantining of the Team
..    Thai health officials said that some of the first boys freed had elevated white-blood cell levels, indicating infections, and two showed signs of pneumonia but were responding well to treatment. They are expected to be quarantined in hospital for at least seven days.

Post Trauma Support.    A psychiatrist is evaluating the rescued team and would provide needed counseling and psychological support.

Kudos to all those involved in this rescue mission and Rest In Peace Saman Kunan,  – you have achieved Great Glory – true to the spirit of a soldier.