June 23 to July 10 seemed like aeons. Stuck at the edge of a slippery slope 15 feet above a current of very very coldwater deep within a six-mile-deep cave, the now (in)famous Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand bordering Myanmar, were 12 boys of ages between 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old football coach out on an excursion gone horribly wrong. The 13 people had simply disappeared. It was raining and water was rushing into the cavern’s bowels through its numerous sluices and stalactite passages. It was only on July 2, a full 10 days after their disappearance that first human contact was made.
Vernon Unsworth, a British hobbyist spelunker, for whom the Tham Luang cave system was a fixation,became the man of the moment. Rick Stanton, a former firefighter, and John Volanthen, an IT consultant, both British cave explorers themselves, diligently followed in Unsworth’s wake and, together, first shone their headlamps on the 13 marooned souls in the darkest place on earth.
The rest was history. It spurred and stoked the finest instincts in humanity across the world. Within no time, there was a truly international coalition in place — a coalition of technology, expertise, man, and material. Above all, of sheer humanism, imagination, and gumption!
Richard Harris, an Australian cave diver,was the lead anaesthesiologist, who anaesthetised the boys before they were transported out of the treacherous cave system.
There were Americans, Indians, Canadians, Israelis, and several others cutting across caste, creed, faith, and nationality.
The ground operations were led by the indomitable Thai SEALS, who lost one of their brothers, retired Major Saman Gunan,inside the cave. Ironically, he had just delivered oxygen cylinders to the boys deep inside and was making his way back when he suffocated to death.
Over 130 million litres of water was pumped out of the cave system, flooding the nearby paddy fields and totally wiping out the local farmers’ produce. But they didn’t mind.
Over 9,000 volunteers set up camp in the vicinity of the cave, helping the effort, some cooking, some cleaning, some standing by, but hoping and praying. The Thai police and army managed the traffic and the crowds immaculately. There wasn’t a single incident.
While the world outside stood vigil, deep inside the cave, man and technology worked like body and soul to save those 13 precious livesand bring them back from certain death.
There was never a more resplendent moment for mankind!