It has been over a year since a Thai youth football team explored Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai and got trapped inside for 18 days due to the heavy rainfall and flood.
The clock was ticking as lives of 13 lives from Wild Boars Academy were hanging by a thread. This marked the beginning of the phenomenal help and support from multiple national and international authorities, professional divers, locals, etc.
In an interview with three professional diving instructors who took part in the ongoing rescue mission, some insights are recounted.
Mr Ruengrit Changkwanyuen: I am a Scuba Dive Instructor and Technical Diver. I trained rescue volunteer divers and was also involved during the tsunami disaster to help clean the site and body recovery. My expertise is special diving equipment and technical diving.
Mr Bruce Konefe: I am originally from the United States, I have lived in Thailand for over 25 years. I started cave diving since the year 2000. I am an Instructor Trainer Director for American Nitrox Divers (ANDI). I teach all levels of cave diving in both diver and Instructor levels. I have written Two ANDI Cave manuals/training materials plus all of the Cave Instructor Procedures.
Mr Mikko Paasi: I am a 44-year-old father of one daughter from Finland. I have run a diving school in Koh Tao, Koh Tao Divers (www.kohtaodivers.com) for 20 years as a professional Thailand diver instructor specialising in deep sea wreck and cave exploration. My passion is exploring new sites and documenting them with my camera. I took my first diving lesson back in 1994, Turkey.
Joining the rescue.
Mr Ruengrit: On Sunday 24 June, I first heard the news on the radio while driving but I did not pay much attention. On the morning of Monday 25 June, I was home and saw the news about 12 kids and their coach got stuck in flooded cave in Chiang Rai. I saw two Thai Navy SEAL divers with their single tank in their back with regular scuba diving configuration try to get into the Cave and thought they were going to die trying to get to those boys.
Thai Navy SEAL did not have proper equipment or cave/technical diving training. My specialised equipment for cave diving and highly skilled cave diving instructor network could help make this mission safe and successful. So, I decided to offer my help. I asked my sister and her friend, Khun Narinthorn Na Bang-Chang to help reach out to Chiang Rai provincial office. Until the afternoon, the provincial officer asked how they would get the kids out if they found them. I told them we could use the Full Face Mask. Around 4pm Khun Narinthorn called and told me we had a green light and to catch the 7:30pm flight. I reached the Cave at 10pm on Monday 25 June.
Mr Bruce: I was at home in Pattaya when I heard the kids were trapped in the cave on social media. I was contacted by Ruengrit on June 24 and was asked if I could come up to Chiang Rai to assist the Thai Navy Seals and with the rescue. I was on a flight the very next morning.
Mr Mikko: I saw the news on social media in Malta. It started as lost boys in a cave and later turned into a flood case. A few friends went up to Chiang Rai and connected me to the technical scene, sending necessary equipment from my own shop in Koh Tao. I later received a lot of phone calls which gathered a group of certified divers to fly over and join the rescue party.
Mr Ruengrit: I brought all my technical diving equipment; specially cave diving equipment, sidemount systems and Full Face
Masks when we found those kids. I was inside the cave providing knowledge on how to properly prepare sidemount harness
system for cave diving to the Navy SEAL. And I was working side by side with the Navy SEAL inside Chamber 3.
Mr Bruce: I had spent time training the Thai Navy Seals with cave diving techniques and getting more trained cave divers.
Collaboration with the US military and Australian police.
Mr Mikko: We did a lot of site cleaning and dove in tens of stage tanks to the kids and other rescuers. During the extraction, I was one of the key divers working in Chamber No.8 (3km) in the cave.
Your key takeaways.
Mr Ruengrit: I was grateful that I had a chance to be part of this rescue mission. This whole operation gave me a sense of hope in humanity and goodness in people around the world. I have seen and experienced people willing to help someone they never knew. It had a great impact in my life especially with my daughters, how I teach them; to be kind and help others in need.
Mr Bruce: Memories that I will never be able to forget were to see so many people from different nations work together through adverse conditions and never give up. It was great to have been part of it.
Mr Mikko: I was amazed how it all went down, to be able to bring them all out safely with all the obstacles. We were pleased with the outcome as things could have been much worse. We had to choose between a bad and less bad option.
The most challenging part.
Mr Ruengrit: To keep focusing on the tasks in the harshest environment. We solved problems as they came as teamwork.
Mr Bruce: Continuous rain storms and flooding made it difficult to stay dry especially on your feet. Everyday we were walking in mud and water.
Mr Mikko: The hardest part was to dive through the narrow restrictions with a little child in your arms.
Advice for cave visitors.
Mr. Ruengrit: Learn and study the cave prior to your visit. Talk to local officials about safety and proper procedure. Bring safety equipment. Listen and follow local official before entering. Stay calm. Try to find exit by yourself if possible but do not waste too much energy. The most important thing is to have hope.
Mr Bruce: Check the weather conditions, carry extra backup lights and let someone know that you will be going into the cave and by what time you should be out.
Mr Mikko: I would encourage kids to never stop exploring and start at a young age. Do not let mistakes stop you from going out, learn from them. Be cautious and pay attention to signs and weather conditions beforehand.