On June 23rd, 2018 the Wild Boars boys soccer team completed their practice for the day and headed out for an adventure. The group, consisting of 12 boys aged 11 to 16 and their 25 year old assistant coach set out on a hike and trip in to the notorious Tham Luang cave system, with the goal being to carve their names at the end of the 2.5km tunnel as proof they’d completed the journey. It was a sort of right of passage and opportunity for the boys to develop qualities of trust, courage and team-building. At the same time, it was an opportunity for the assistant coach to learn to manage the team on his own. Although it was a trip made by several boys before, this time would be different. The group entered the cave system, which is one of Thailand’s longest with a series of tunnels, cliffs, slippery rocks and sharp drop offs. What happened next would captivate audiences all around the world for more than two weeks.
The boys were entering the caves during the rainy season and just before a storm would approach. Shortly after the boys left their bicycles at the cave entrance, the weather took a turn for the worse. The heavy rain filled the tunnels with water and blocked their exit route. The group could only continue moving forward until they found a dry ledge – some 4km into the cave and the spot where they ended up being stranded for days. Later that day their head coach, who could not make the trip, began receiving phone calls from worried parents after the boys did not return.
Searchers headed to the site of the trip where they began to find clues of what happened and where the boys had been – their bicycles which had been left behind, shoes and bags. However, there was still no sign of the boys.
Over the next several days, a complex rescue operation began. Hundreds of experts flew in from around the world to help. Parents of the boys never gave up as they maintained a constant vigil and prayed outside the cave. Help from Australia, China, Japan, the UK and the US began to arrive.
With hope that the boys may have ventured further in to the cave and may still be alive, rescuers began pumping water out of the caves to create breathing space for divers to begin exploring deeper in to the dark caves.
As water continued to rise, rescuers attempted to punch a hole into the side of the mountain in efforts of draining water levels. This appeared to be unsuccessful as the water continued to rise. The situation was getting more urgent and serious as the clock continued to tick and it had now been 5 days since the boys had been seen.
On July 1st, a week later, there was still no sign of the boys. Monks and others began to gather in efforts of offering spiritual guidance to concerned family members and others who could only hope the situation would improve. They offered prayers for the rain to stop and for the boys to be found.
Hope finally appeared when a pair of British divers found the boys and their coach…alive. While this came as a relief, there was much work to be done. The group was tired, hungry and their health was deteriorating. To make matters worse, the weather forecast was not favorable and presented the possibility of more challenges.
Rescuers realized that the only way out may require the boys and their coach to swim underwater through the dark cave complex, a journey that would likely take hours. A group of Thai Navy SEALs began teaching the group the basics of diving. A rope was installed to be a guide through the dark and murky waters once the boys were ready for the journey home.
On July 5th, former Thai SEAL, Saman Gunan dies while placing air canisters along the anticipated path the rescuers are going to take. This serves as a reminder of the treacherous conditions and dangerous mission that all were taking.
Efforts continued while the boys were being provided with foil warming blankets and food. Meanwhile, rescuers continue searching for alternative ways to get the group out. With few options, the rescuers move forward with leading the boys out through the cold, dark, water-filled tunnels.
On July 8th, the first group of four boys completed the journey out of the cave and are the first to be rescued. Each rescue trip takes as long as eight hours, while each boy is supported by two divers. This continued through July 10th when the last of the boys and their coach were out of the cave and safe. All but the diver who sacrificed his life had survived the ordeal that lasted for 18 days.
Parents and those watching around the world rejoiced at the heroic efforts and brave young men who persevered what seemed to be an impossible mission and one that began with a very poor prognosis.
The young team seemed to overcome improbable odds. They started out on a journey to nurture qualities of trust, courage and team-work. What they did went far beyond that. It was only through these qualities that the rescuers and boys were able to bring about a happy ending to this true life story. Despite the gravity of the situation, they never gave up hope.
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