Thai Youth Soccer Team Rescued After Being Trapped In Cave By A Natural Disaster

Natural disasters can be absolutely terrifying. Though weather organizations have made advancements in predicting when earthquakes, tornadoes, storms, and other natural disasters may occur, many individuals can be left helpless by these happenings.

As is the case in life, a freak occurrence can be both positive and negative in nature. There’s really no preparing for something out of one’s control — particularly when it comes as a massive surprise. Southeast Asia is known for having very extreme weather. Whether it’s immense humidity, scorching heat, or heavy rains, people from this part of the world are introduced to very wild conditions.

Simply put, Mother Nature doesn’t abide by any rules. The early part of June generally coincides with the beginning of Monsoon season in Southeast Asia. Rural parts of countries are impacted far more than major cities. This is largely due to the lack of infrastructure and sound construction in small agrarian hamlets. When buckets upon buckets of rain falls upon the tropical setting, people run for cover in order to seek safety. Flooding is a serious issue, and the lack of resources made available in more rural areas can be a real danger when trying to deal with the rain.

25-year-old Ekkapol Chantawong is the head coach of a youth soccer team. With children aged 11-to-16, Chantawong works tirelessly to make the group of youngsters the best soccer players possible. Located closely to the practice field is Tham Luang Cave — a brilliant underground labyrinth in a mountainous region in Thailand.

A five-hour hike with the soccer coach and his players turned into a scary rescue mission. As has been the case with others in Thailand, a real natural disaster left the group of 13 in a very dangerous position.

One would think this would be a made-up story in a book or even on television. Instead, this true life situation is hard to believe. It’s become a story garnering headlines all over the world. No one could ever believe how this all ended.

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25-year-old Ekkapol Chantawong is in charge of a local Thai youth soccer team called Wild Boar (translated from the Thai term ‘Moo Pa’). The group of children on the team range in ages from 11-to-16. On June 23, 2018, Chantawong had a special activity planned after practice.

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The team was based in the Chiang Rai Province. It is the most northern province in the country of Thailand, and shares borders with both Laos and Myanmar. The region is mountainous in nature. It also has dense, lush jungles. The geography of the region ultimately proved to be a major concern for the head coach and his team.

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Chantawong and his 12 players planned on exploring a massive cave right near their practice area. Called Tham Luang Cave, this intricate underground cave had a large number of natural tunnels and simply beautiful views. It’s also 6.2 miles long. The plan was to explore the cave for five hours. Instead, something horrible happened.

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The group of players traveled roughly 2.5 miles into the cave. The afternoon seemed completely normal — as the group had explored the caves previously. However, Mother Nature reared her ugly head in a big way. A large Monsoon storm suddenly hit the area. What happened next was truly terrifying.

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Large quantities of rain suddenly started falling. The downpour ultimately made the surrounding area completely water-logged. Flooding then proceeded to enter into every crack and crease in the area. Unfortunately for the children and their head coach, this occurred as they were inside the cave…

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The gushing flows of rain water effectively clogged the entrance to the cave. Large chunks of mud and debris plugged the pathway initially used by the soccer team and its coach. At this point, there’s simply no way out until the flooding stops. With the group missing, a frantic country-wide search began.

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A search mission was immediately orchestrated. Rescue teams were sent out to comb through the jungle. At one point, one rescue individual came across a pile of personal belongings near the mouth of the cave. From there, it was determined that the group of children and their coach were somewhere inside the cave. It took one week before finding any clues to the mystery of the missing children. The next step in the rescue mission proved to be very difficult.

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The Thai government enlisted the help of thousands of people. Over 1,000 Royal Thai Armed Forces members were called upon for their services. This also included 650 local policemen, government officials, 100 medical staff members, and 84 Thai Navy Seal divers. However, this wasn’t enough. The Thai government decided to reach out to other countries around the world.

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Among the members coming to help from other countries, 3 diving experts came from the United Kingdom. Japan offered two water experts, China sent six rescue operation experts, Myanmar sent a full rescue team, Australia sent diving experts, and Laos sent three rescue professionals. Lastly, the United States offered the services of 30 military members from its Pacific Command. Ultimately, humans from all over the world came together to rescue these scared children from serious danger.

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An underwater demolition squad worked tirelessly to unclog the main tunnel of the cave. It proved to be a very difficult task. Not only did this cave have a crazy amount of small, narrow tunnels, but they were tiny to the point that only one diver could fit through each tunnel at one time. The people of the region — and the families of the missing people — were starting to lose hope. A group of people decided to take measures into their own hands.

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The residents of the rural area volunteered graciously to house the families of the children as the search continued. This included cooking for those who were in need of food. In addition, schools all over Thailand offered their condolences. This story went viral — and thus became national news. People on social media were even spreading awareness with hashtags in support of the cause. As searchers looked for another way into the cave, it appeared as if all hope was lost. However, a major breakthrough occurred after 10 days…

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A British cave explorer first came across the children and coach. The efforts to clear pathways for divers took large chunks of time. Finally, the diver was able to wiggle his way through to where the children were. All 13 missing people were sitting together on a dry portion of the cave. It sat above the water. None of them were sick or injured in any way. However, a major problem still remained.

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The intricate nature of the cave formation makes it nearly impossible to currently get the children out of the caves. None of them having diving experience, and the small tunnels are less-than-ideal for getting the children out of the cave. U.S. National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator Anmar Mirza had this to say on the issue:

“Supplying [the children] on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are. Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy. If the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater.”

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A large effort has now been made to try and feed the children. Vitamins and small amounts of food have been transported to the children via divers. In addition, a nurse and doctor have made the trek inside the cave to offer their medical help. None of the children appear to be troubled by sickness or injury.

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Initially, the plan was to be methodical. The usage of air pumps, drones, and other tools were being used to clear out excess mud. Additionally, the water levels inside the cave needed to go down for the children to safely be taken out of the cave. However, another recent problem has made this plan nearly impossible to do. Instead, a development with the weather could cause a dangerous-yet-quick mission to happen.

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Rescuers on the scene have reportedly asked for up to 15 full face masks. There are those believing that a rescue mission could happen sooner than later. This is due to the potential threat of another massive Monsoon storm. It could be a case where the children may have to make the dangerous diving mission out of the caves.

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Thailand’s interior minister Anupong Paojinda had this to say on the current state of affairs:

“As rain is forecast in the next few days, the evaluation must speed up. Diving gear will be used. If the water rises, the task will be difficult. We must bring the children out before then.”

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Quote Source: The Guardian

After surveying the scene, many of the cave’s tunnels are blocked. The professionals are doing everything they can to act in a quick and efficient manner. The bravery of these children is truly inspiring. The unfortunate appearance of Mother Nature has truly caused this sad and unlucky scene. However, a break through occurred in the best way possible.

Image Source: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

After 2 weeks, all 12 of the children (including their coach) were rescued from the cave. This was no easy task — as the boys had to be trained to dive through tunnels of deep water. This required over three hours of swimming. Many volunteers had to be thanked for their efforts in assisting the children. Unfortunately, one of the volunteers suffered a terrible fate.

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A 38-year-old former Thai navy SEAL diver named Saman Gunan passed away during the dangerous mission. He was tasked with delivering extra oxygen tasks to the children along their route. Sadly, he did not have enough oxygen to make it back safely. Gunan was found unconscious in one of the cave’s tunnels. He should be honored for his selflessness and bravery in the harsh face of danger.

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Without question, the story surrounding the youth soccer team and its coach is a crazy one. One must admire the patience, bravery, and composure of those trapped within the formation of the cave. At times, Mother Nature can be downright relentless and equally as unforgiving. We’re glad that they were all rescued in a safe and timely fashion.

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