The successful rescue of the Thai ‘wild boars’ soccer team has changed the image of Thailand for the better – it is an inspirational moment for Thailand

The two experienced British cave divers have rightly been applauded for their significant role in the rescue mission in Tham Luang, Thailand. The successful rescue operation has strengthened the bond between Thailand and foreigners while also giving an avid worldwide TV and media audience an insight into what makes Thailand so unique, special and wonderful.

Thai wild boars soccer squad at a press conference discussing the cave rescue
The ‘Wild Boars’ soccer crew looked relaxed and healthy at a controlled press conference this week. The Thai boys, found alive on July 2nd by two UK divers as part of an international rescue operation, have now returned home to their families. The story has captivated the world since it broke and created a new image for Thailand by allowing foreigners to glimpse the real spirit of Thai people and their love of family. Thailand’s cooperation with foreign divers was key to the success of the operation which saw the whole world rally together in order to bring the Thai boys home.

The search for twelve kid footballer and their coach who went missing on June 23th after entering the Tham Luang cave in the Chiang Rai province of northern Thailand started amid concerns and despair. It was revealed later that the victims visited the cave to go through a local initiation rite in which they had to leave their belongings outside before entering the cave to scribble their names on a wall at the end of the tunnel. But the monsoon rains blocked the entrance, preventing them from getting out and forcing them to retreat further into the massive tunnel network. Given the lack of food and other essentials, the odds were not in their favour.

A team of foreigners sourced from all over the world where the answer that Thai authorities needed

Nevertheless, the search has captured intensive global attention and has continued to fascinate viewers and online news users. The rescue effort became a show of international solidarity as many countries, including Britain, the US, Australia, Belgium, China, Ireland and other countries, sent personnel and equipment to help.

Thai authorities had identified that the cave diving specialists who they requested had unique skills that have been called upon the world over by governments in need. It was the right call.

Foreign newspaper reports gave an insight into a well-planned mission put together by co-ordinators 

Fascinating stories emerged in national and local newspapers around the world as Thai authorities reached out to foreigners with cave diving expertise.

One newspaper report from Ireland told how specialised diving gear using older technology was tracked down there as this equipment was the requirement for the mission.

The equipment was picked up by special flight and flown to Thailand overnight with cooperation from all world authorities. It also emerged that one of the UK Rick Stanton was dating a pretty Thai nurse called Amp whom he had met in the UK before the event.

Unconfirmed sources suggest that Rick and his Thai girlfriend had met quite recently. Amp, who coincidentally is from Chiang Rai, but who works abroad as a nurse, became involved with the rescue operation as a translator and assistant to Rick and the other divers.

UK divers who found the boys had been personally requested to assist the Thai rescue effort

The entire Thai nation was united as Thais, who are quite religious, prayed for the safety of the young boys and their coach. But there was a positive feeling, the miracle that happened on July 2nd when the group were found alive and in good condition, had transformed the picture.

It was a quake shock that galvanised the world’s media into action. The first rescuers to reach the Thai boys were Rick Stanton and John Volanthen who have been described as A-level cave divers of UK. These heroes will be remembered. Renowned divers with global recognition, Rick Stanton, 56 years old, and John Volanthen, 47 years old, had been personally requested to aid the rescue effort after the Thai authorities sought help from the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC).

But interestingly, diving is not so much their profession as their passion since both have day jobs in Britain.

The UK hero divers have days jobs and are not full time professionals

The fairytale nature of this story is, in fact, augmented by the fact that both divers are part-time divers. They are, however, the world’s leading specialists in this particular sort of diving that became a matter of life and death for 12 schoolboys and their coach.

Mr Stanton is a fireman from Coventry while Mr Volanthen works as an IT consultant. Yet they have established a reputation as some of the world’s greatest rescue divers, and what many people may regard as an unprecedented rescue operation in Thailand is simply the latest task in a series of brave rescue missions they have taken part in around the globe.

UK duo have previous experience in coming to rescue of those trapped in caves

Mr Stanton participated in rescuing British soldiers who, similar to the Thai boys, had been trapped by flooding inside the Alpazat cavern system in 2004.

He also successfully retrieved the body of the French potholer Eric Establie, who got trapped in the deep cave system of Dragonniere Gaude in 2010, for which he was made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

One year later, Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen set a world record for the longest cave dive as they got down as deep as 9 km down a system in northern Spain. However, their missions do not always end in success, such as the 2014 mission.

The Norwegian police asked them to help retrieve the bodies of two cavers from deep down a caving network called Steinugleflaget but the mission was later aborted due to the difficult geological conditions of the system.

British divers tested a new oxygen supply technique in the Thai caves

So the Thailand rescue mission is a chance for them to make a new accomplishment. The BCRC praises the pair as ‘experts in low-visibility cave dives within small passages’.

Mr Volanthen started out by testing a new equipment called a re-breather that allows air to be recirculated and reused, thus enabling cave divers to stay underwater for a longer duration.

That piece of equipment has proved to be extremely effective as it helped Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen navigate the complex 10-kilometre Tham Luang Nang Non network and find the boys in time.

In video footage of the moment when the boys were first found, Mr Volanthen can be heard telling the boys: ‘How many of you are there – 13? Brilliant.’ The boys and their coach were thin but their physical and mental health was fine.

The video showed the boys talking and laughing with each other. Shortly afterwards, diving lines were laid down so that food and medical supplies could be ferried to them. Some medics and Thai navy SEALS members have stayed with the group to provide them with support.

Thai authorities had backup plans in case they were required to save the boys of Tham Luang

Families of the trapped boys and rescue workers rejoiced at the news that they were still alive but had to wait a little longer for the moment that all 12 and their hero coach were brought out.

In the midst of the monsoon rains and diminishing oxygen, other approaches were also worked on, such as drilling through rock fissures to create another entrance or supplying the boys with the essentials to wait for the water level to drop.

However, the dangerous terrain and weather caused the Thai authorities to rule out those two, leaving the only option that happened to be the fastest and most dangerous one: The boys had to swim and dive to the entrance using scuba equipment.

The diving experts are giving the boys a crash course in how to use scuba equipment so that each of them can swim out while being escorted by a pair of experienced divers. Their coach also mentored them earlier though their meditation skills.

In fact, the coach, like most Thai people, was a monk at a local Thai Buddhist monastery. The boys after recuse have been shielded from the media first in a hospital and later through a policy designed to avoid intensive media intrusion.

They have given a press briefing but they are now looking forward to returning to normal life with their loving families. They will however become monks very shortly.

Difficulty of rescue operation that claimed the life of hero Thai Navy Seal

It was an extremely difficult task as the boys could not swim while the 1.2 km passage to the entrance was submerged in flood water and at some points in pitch darkness, presenting problems with even the most experienced divers.

This is how the former Thai SEAL diver Samarn Kunan who died of a lack of oxygen during the rescue effort.

He is being celebrated in Thailand as a hero and their plan to erect a monument to him. He was given a posthumous promotion to Lieutenant Commander by the Thai King and given created a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, one of Thailand’s highest honours granted by the monarch. At the conclusion of the operation, the Thai Navy Seal unit was given a rousing reception when they returned to base.

The rescue of the wild boar at Tham Luang cave has raised Thailand’s profile worldwide and shown the world the love and devotion of Thai families, the country’s cooperation with foreigners and strikingly, the belief of the Thai people in a higher power and the resilience this instils.

It is a story that will endure and one from which we can all learn valuable lessons.