The fabrication and the actual Thai cave rescue

One of the boys is moved on a stretcher during the rescue operation of the Thai Wild Boars soccer team in July last year. Image credit NZ Herald

We watched with bated breath when 12 boys from a Thai soccer team and their coach emerged alive from the bowels of a cave last year.  Quote.

It would take skilled divers from countries including Australia and even then success was not guaranteed. Days were needed to bring out the boys and there was no guarantee all of them would make it out alive.

end of quote

We were told each boy would be taught to scuba dive and assisted by two divers, one ahead of him and another behind to negotiate the difficult labyrinth. Short breaks would be taken after each obstacle to allow the boys to recover. Quote.

Graphics and maps were produced of how the boys dressed in wetsuits and flippers would swim in a buddy system tethered to expert divers up and down the treacherous subterranean labyrinth to the surface.

The boys’ parents were told their sons would be swimming to safety and in the global joy which erupted after the last of the boys surfaced safe and alive, no-one questioned the method of their extraction.? End of quote.

Image Credit: WPLG Local 10

A newspaper reports that ABC Australia Southeast Asia correspondent Liam Cochrane has produced a book lifting the lid on the actual method of extraction, which was far more invasive for the boys and
challenging for the rescuers
than the scenario depicted at the time. 

Rescuers told us one thing, but actually did something else. The truth is that each boy was carried out fully unconscious. Cochrane describes the actual escape process for Note, the first boy to be taken out. Quote.

Note was given a sedative to swallow, then injected in each leg with ketamine by Australian cave diver, Dr Richard Harris, an anaesthetist known as Dr Harry, until he fell into unconsciousness.

Note was placed into his diving suit, had an air tank strapped to his chest, and a small full-face mask fitted.

Within half a minute Note began to breathe normally and the divers handcuffed him, tying cable ties around his wrists and clipping them behind his back.

“This was to ensure that if he did wake up from his ketamine slumber, he wouldn’t try to rip off his face mask, endangering both his life and that of his rescuer,” Cochrane writes.

He describes Note’s rescue as being held by a harness strap on his back by one of the expert divers and submerged, “in roughly the same position as a strapped-together tandem skydiver and instructor“.

Note was taken through the first flooded chamber like this, then brought to the surface where he was medically checked.

He was then taken again underwater in the tandem position for the next flooded chamber.

“The two biggest dangers underwater were the boy waking up and panicking, or his mask leaking and turning that plastic and silicone bubble of life over his face into a death trap,” Cochrane writes.

“Preventing the mask from becoming dislodged was a constant concern.”

The rescue was slow, difficult and physically challenging for the rescue divers, but it worked.

Note was hauled onto dry land, checked by doctors and deemed okay.?

end quote.

The same process was repeated for the other 11 boys and their coach until eventually all emerged safely. 

The real story explains why the process took much, much longer than anticipated.

The real story also explains why media and parents were banished from the cave entrance – to avoid seeing each boy emerge unconscious.

At the time the boys’ parents were overwhelmingly grateful to the expert divers who travelled from all over the world to undertake this very challenging rescue.

But now parents know the actual details of the rescue, how do you think they feel about being duped?

My feeling is that parents would react the same way as when they addressed the culpability of the soccer coach who led the boys there in the first place – with forgiveness and without blame or recrimination. Quote.

?Please don?t blame yourself.?

?We are not mad at you at all. Do take good care of yourself. Don?t forget to cover yourself with blanket as the weather is cold. We?re worried. You will come out soon.? End of quote.

It?s hard to imagine these grateful parents taking umbrage about being lied to when they are aware of how narrowly tragedy had been avoided. The details on how their boys got out are not so important.