TL;DR – All’s well that ends well.
On 23 June, 12 boys and their soccer coach, Ekapol Chatarawong, walked into a cave after their soccer practice in northern Thailand. They became trapped when heavy rains flooded the Tham Luang cave and cut off their exit route. For a while, they were feared dead. Then, after nine days, two British divers found them, still alive, on a ledge in a cavern. That sparked a challenging rescue operation to extract the party safely, with rising water and mud impeding access.
The entire incident was harrowing and made a lot of us, including me, hold our breathes griping the edge of our seats as we follow the rescue efforts.
With the world watching, the final of the boys and their coach were rescued last night to great relief.
There were also stories from the incident that warmed my heart. Here are the three stories I found most heartwarming.
1. International team comes together to risk their lives to save lives
The international rescue effort to save the boys and their coach drew some of the world’s most elite rescue divers –- 50 from foreign countries and 40 from within Thailand. The contingent of rescuers includes a team of Thai Navy SEALS, a highly-trained corps of emergency operatives willing to trade their lives for the trapped group. The incredible scenes of this international team working together has been hailed as a model of international cooperation and coordinated selflessness.
Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote:
“This story touches us because it is elemental, but also because every detail runs counter to the egomania and selfishness and fake bravado that appears to be running the world.”
Indeed, the fact that people of different nationalities can come together for something good gives us reason to hope.
2. Parents letter telling coach they don’t blame him
While the group waited to be rescued, the expert divers delivered letters between the boys and their parents.
Some of the parents wrote to the coach. In those letters, they made it clear that they don’t blame Ekapol for putting their sons in danger. One letter had this:
“We want you to rest assured that no parent is upset or angry at you. Everybody supports you… Thank you very much for taking care of our children. You went into the cave with our children and you must get out with them. Take our children and yourself out with safety. We are waiting in front of the cave.”
Such words must have served as incredible encouragement to the coach and gave him the emotional and psychological strength to continue taking care of the boys until they were all rescued.
And oh, have you read about how the 25-year-old coach kept the teenage boys alive before they were found? When they were found, the coach was among the weakest in the group, and that’s mostly because he gave the boys his share of however little and limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys meditation so that they could conserve energy.
3. Farmers’ happily sacrifice for the group
As part of the rescue efforts, water had to be pumped out of the cave. Nineteen high-powered pumps are in place to reduce the water level. The authorities say more than 128 million litres of water have been sucked out of the 10km-long cave, enough to fill 50 Olympic-size swimming pools. The water has been funnelled into nearby fields, streams and hastily dug underground wells.
As a result, the fields of many farmers were submerged, killing their crops and their ducks.
Thai farmer Lek Lapdaungpoin is one such farmer. Nearly 20ha of Lek’s land has been inundated and 100 of his free-ranging ducks have perished or gone missing since their food source in the fields was flooded. But instead of being upset, Lek is proud that he can contribute in his own way to the rescue efforts. He said:
“With the farming, we can make money again. But 13 lives are not something we can create”
4. Volunteers worked overnight to bring clean kits to rescue workers
When the owner of a laundry facility saw photos of rescue workers wearing their dirty and very muddy uniform and how the police said their uniform had not been washed for four days straight, she sprung into action. Together with other volunteers, they worked through the night to clean the clothes. They’d collect the kits at 9pm and return them, all cleaned and smelling fresh at 4am.
“I don’t have the ability to get the kids out directly but what I can do is wash these clothes.”
Everyone rescued to safety
Thankfully, all those efforts paid off. The 12 boys and their coach have been rescued. The whole incident, with all of its heartwarming stories, helps to restore a little bit of faith in humanity.
(Featured image via Thai Navy Seals FB)