8 Lessons We Learned
from the Thai Cave Rescue
By Andy Flores
The world let out a huge sigh of relief and erupted into celebration on Tuesday night, when the news broke that all 12 school boys and their football coach trapped inside the treacherous Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand had been rescued, ending a 17-day ordeal.
A heart-stopping operation, the Thai cave rescue gripped the hearts and minds of millions, gathering people across nations in action, in prayer, and in showing an astounding amount of concern and compassion. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and while the story of the boys, their coach, and the rescuers are far from over, here are some lessons we learned from the event:
1. Hope can be found even in the darkest of places.
…literally. With time running out and the undesirable weather over Chiang Rai not letting up, the odds of the boys, aged between 11 to 17, and their coach, 25-year-old Ekaphol “Ek” Chantawong, surviving underground was getting bleaker by the minute. But with authorities and rescue teams working rigorously in high spirits, the extraordinary happened: Nine days after the Wild Boars football team had gone missing, they were found alive 2.5 miles into the cave complex.
2. Fuel your passion.
A number of members of the international rescue team maintain regular day jobs back in their home countries, and practice cave diving out of passion. Among many others, British volunteer John Volanthen, one of the two divers who discovered the trapped boys, is an IT consultant based in Bristol, while Australian Dr. Richard Harris, whose main task was to assess and ensure the health of the boys and decide on who had to be taken out of the cave first, is an Adelaide-based anesthetist. You just never know when the world would need you and your expertise, so go and keep doing what you love!
3. “Cherish every day.”
As the events of the rescue intensified, the world got to know the retired Thai Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Saman Gunan, who was at the forefront of the mission. In charge of delivering oxygen tanks to the young boys and the coach, the avid outdoorsman didn’t have enough for himself on his way back. He made the ultimate sacrifice, and his comrades made sure that his efforts didn’t go to waste. He was once quoted saying, “We never knew when we would die. We can’t control that so we need to cherish every day.” His passing was met with an outpouring of tributes to remember his life and act of courage.
4. No role is ever too small, for there are heroes in everyday faces.
From the home cooks and chefs who provided free meals onsite to the laundry staff who washed the wetsuits and uniforms of the volunteers to the farmers who allowed the water pumped out of the cave to be directed to their rice paddies, every single individual involved in this grueling mission contributed to its success.
5. Pulling the blame card won’t solve anything.
It’s almost natural for people to point fingers when things go awry, but in this case, nobody did. It would have been so easy for the parents to blame the assistant coach for accompanying the kids into the treacherous cave when he should have known better, but they didn’t. Instead, they continued to trust him. A mother of one of the boys trapped inside the cave said in an interview, “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”
6. Do not underestimate the power of meditation.
When the boys were found by the rescuers, they were surprisingly calm, sitting quietly in the dark. They were meditating. Their coach, who had spent a decade in a monastery as a Buddhist monk, had taught the team how to meditate to conserve their energy until they were found. Keeping the kids calm during a time of distress was crucial, especially since the most feasible way for them to make it out of the cave was to learn cave diving – a plan that wouldn’t work if they were in a state of panic. In an interview back in 2013, volunteer rescue diver Volanthen told the Sunday Times, “Panic and adrenaline are great in certain situations, but not in cave-diving. The last thing you want is any adrenaline whatsoever.”
7. Teamwork will always do wonders.
This incident underscores the importance of working in full coordination and unity. Racing against time, defying all odds in the process, the rescue unit as well as the football team trapped inside the cave succeeded in their pursuits because they trusted each other and worked together to achieve their goal.
8. Humanity is alive and well.
And it is up to us to keep it that way.