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January 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Another Good Story about that Epic Thai Cave Dive Rescue

from the January, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

There are more heroics to report about the story that kept the world captivated last summer, when cave divers successfully rescued a boys' soccer team from the Tham Lung cave in Thailand. During the underwater search, Ric Stanton and John Volanthen, two of the cave rescue divers, stumbled across four Thai water company workers who were also trapped in an airspace in the cave system during their search and not otherwise known to be there.

The workers had been there for some days, very frightened and not in good shape, so Stanton and Volanthen had to come up with an immediate plan to get them out. With only two sets of dive equipment between six of them, the cave divers took the Thai men out of the cave, one by one, by de-kitting and re-kitting so that each could escape, and exposing themselves to the danger of rising water while not wearing any breathing equipment themselves. It was a process that took several hours.

Modest to the end, it was thought of as a sideshow -- something that both divers failed to mention at the time of the successful soccer team rescue and the media was focused elsewhere. The information only came out in conversation later, and then was made public knowledge by cave diving medic Richard Harris during his presentation at a technical diving conference last month in England.

However, the difficulty that came from managing these four young men, who tended to panic and struggle during the underwater escape, proved a valuable lesson for the rescuers. That effort resulted in the decision to sedate the 12 boys and their coach (with appropriate doses of Ketamine) before passing them, secured to stretchers and breathing through full-face masks, through the much longer, flooded passages blocking their team's escape.

The final evacuation was to take several days and the trapped boys voted among themselves which of them were to escape first. They did this on the basis of who lived farthest away, considering how far they would have to ride their bicycles home, which indicated they had no inkling of the world's interest and the media circus that awaited them outside the cave.

Stanton and Volanthen have since been awarded the George Medal, England's second-highest civilian award, by Queen Elizabeth.

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