A Brief History
On July 12, 2018, the world celebrates the safe rescue of a dozen Thai boys and their soccer team coach from what seemed like certain death deep in a flooded cave. Found huddled in the cave in Thailand 4 kilometers (!) deep into the mountain 9 days after entering the cave, the world was astounded to find out the entire team was still alive. The next several days chronicled a most unlikely and heroic rescue attempt with many countries and individuals lending money and expertise to the incredibly difficult rescue attempt. The miraculous rescue was completed on July 10, 2018, 15 days after the team entered the cave.
The boys’ soccer team had been led by their assistant coach on a team and character building exercise by trekking out to a familiar cave system and descending into the depths of the cave. Sharing this experience was to mold the boys more securely into a solid team, with no idea just how intense the experience would turn out to be! The cave system is known to be dangerous during rainy weather and especially during monsoon season, and the entrance to the cave is clearly marked forbidding entry between certain dates. The 25 year old coach took the boys, ages 11 through 16, into the cave ignoring the warning sign.
When the boys were missed, associates of the team found the bikes and gear belonging to the boys outside the cave entrance. The implications were grim. The team had obviously entered the cave which was now flooded by heavy rains that had fallen. The path to find the boys through the cave system was perilous, a winding and narrow passage with flooded sections separated by dry areas. Rescuers diving through the inky blackness and tight confines had no idea how far they would have to go to find the team… or their bodies. An incredible 9 days after the team entered the cave, contact was made, and the rescuers and the world were astounded to find all 12 boys and their coach alive and apparently well. The strong team spirit and bonds between the team and their coach enabled them to share the meager food they had available and keep each other’s’ spirits up. The marooned lads told a tale of being forced deeper and deeper into the cave to avoid being flooded. Time became impossible to keep track of. Video messages and images of the boys were relayed to anguished parents and across the television screens across the world. Food, medicine and emergency blankets were distributed and people rejoiced.
After the boys were found, supplies and medical help was quickly organized with ropes strung along the route to the sanctuary to guide rescuers. The extreme distance and tricky maneuvering necessary under water with multiple changes of air tanks made rescue of the soccer team difficult, or seemingly impossible. The possibility of having to wait for a few months to allow water levels to drop enough to make scuba gear unnecessary loomed over the rescue efforts. Dropping oxygen levels and deteriorating health of the boys in the cold, wet cave made a prompt rescue mandatory. The rescuers would not have the luxury of waiting for more ideal conditions. Sadly, during the phase of setting up supplies and care for the boys a Thai diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died when his air ran out deep in the cave. This tragedy underscored just how dangerous the rescue attempt would be if such an experienced diver could die trying to navigate the flooded cave, and the prospect of taking 12 boys and a man with no diving experience whatsoever (including many non-swimmers!) out of the cave while making air tank changes underwater during a 5 hour ordeal to traverse the flooded cave to the entrance and salvation was a daunting challenge.
When the first 4 boys were rescued from the cave safely the world collectively took a deep breath and marveled at the skill of the rescuers. So many air tanks had been used up in the rescue, a day would pass before another rescue mission could take place. Finally, 15 days after entering the cave, the last of the boys and the coach were safely escorted from the abyss. No other people had died, and no serious injuries were reported. The boys were rushed to medical isolation to treat them for lung infections and whatever other maladies they may have incurred during their long stay in the cave.
Now that the miraculous rescue of the soccer team has been accomplished, we wonder what responsibility the coach that took those boys into serious danger should be answerable for. Obviously, he endangered the lives of those children he was acting en loco parentis for. Considering the known danger of entering the cave during rainy season and the prominent sign warning of the danger of entering the cave, should the coach be charged criminally with the Thai equivalent of child endangering? Should the coach be liable for the medical bills the boys will incur as a result of their misadventure? How about the millions of dollars the rescue must have cost? Is the coach responsible for the death of the brave Thai SEAL that died while assisting with rescue attempts?
Preliminary indications are that the coach will not be charged criminally for his reckless actions, and his heroic leadership while in the cave is being lauded by the boys, the families of the boys, and others. But should the coach have to face up to the ramifications of his poor judgement? The giddy feel-good atmosphere after such an incredible rescue overshadows such distasteful things as criminal prosecution of a beloved coach, but the questions need to be answered.
Question for students (and subscribers): Please tell us what you think about this situation in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Fregau-Conover, Annette and John C. Hempel. On Call: A Complete Reference for Cave Rescue. National Speleological Society, 2001.
Lafarchoux, Ferdinand. Thailand Cave Rescue: Part One – Disappearance and Discovery (Volume 1). CreateSpace, 2018.