Writing this soon after the safe extraction of all those young local footballers from the forbidding vastness of that Chiang Rai cave system, there still exists a profound sense of relief and gratitude in all those who have followed the long drawn out saga until its successful ending. Thankfully, it ended much better than many of us feared.
Many in the expatriate community here in Northern Thailand have been transfixed by this story, following every development, as indeed have apparently all the Thai people, added to the widespread concern of those of many other nationalities all around the world. For such young non-swimmers to be stranded in a flooded and dark cave system was a nightmare almost beyond compare. Which of us has not been deeply impressed by the way that so many communities came together to achieve the highly-desired objective, of rescue?
As might be expected from such a gracious people as the Thais, numerous local people made their own voluntary contributions in whatever way they could. Large numbers of soldiers, Thai Navy Seals, medical personnel, the police and others were quickly assigned to play their part in a well-organised search and rescue attempt. Such impressive and well co ordinated team work was a joy to behold.
But let us also recall with sadness that the retired Navy Seal, voluntarily returning to join and to support his former comrades in their tasks within those flooded caves, unfortunately lost his life in the process: thus underscoring just what a terribly-dangerous mission it was, for all concerned.
As well as the hundreds of uniformed personnel contributing in many different ways towards this challenging mission, observers from around the world have been mightily impressed, and very touched, to see the very many ordinary Thai civilians who contributed in any ways they could towards this rescue mission. Some provided meals to the thousands on site; some provided transport; one even provided a barber service to those involved. This voluntary coming together to help, at a time of great and pressing need, has provided a shining example, in this otherwise often divisively-divided world of ours, of all that humans can achieve by ready co-operation.
To swim or to dive in a water filled and extensive cave system is a frightening and challenging task even for experienced cave divers. The many brave men from the Thai Navy Seals who did this, constantly, are to be applauded for their courage and professionalism, for such dire and supremely dangerous circumstances would likely not have been the subject of their usual sea dive training.
We foreigners resident in Thailand have been heartened to see other volunteers, from other countries, swiftly come here to Northern Thailand to dive, at the risk of their own lives, in the hopes of finding and extracting those youngsters trapped in this extensive cave system. Their contributions, arranged by the Thai authorities and supported by numerous Thai military and civilian personnel, served to make this rescue mission an international one.
As an Englishman and local resident, I was proud to observe that the young footballers were first located by the flown in volunteer British cave divers, who later contributed a lot more during the extraction process. They had volunteers alongside them from many other countries doing their bit to help out, too. The doctor diver who chose to remain inside the chamber with these children, once located (along with several Thai Navy seals) was Australian, for example.
All of them, and countless others all around the world, can rejoice that all 12 of the stranded youngsters plus their inspiring football coach, were got out safely in the end – and in relatively good health and good spirits, bearing in mind the lengthy trauma they had all just gone through. For the loving parents, facing the horror of the stranding of their sons in a flooding cave system, the profound stress and worry must have been dreadful, though this did not stop them from supporting each other’s families throughout this long ordeal.
So, a planned birthday picnic within these caves for the junior football team turned in to what will probably be the worst experience these young people will ever face during their whole lives. And their long hoped for safe rescue has galvanised many people here in Thailand, and all around the world.
All credit is due to the thousands of people, be they uniformed Thai personnel, local volunteers, or overseas based volunteers who worked so diligently, in supremely challenging and dangerous circumstances, for their great combined efforts, which led to the successful outcome of this harrowing but ultimately happily ending saga. They don’t call this The Land of Smiles for nothing!