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Chiang Rai

Miracle at Tham Luang – The Thailand cave drama unfolds, a year on

The Thaiger

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Miracle at Tham Luang – The Thailand cave drama unfolds, a year on | The Thaiger

On June 23, a year ago, only a few northern Thai locals and serious cave enthusiasts knew much about the Tham Luang Caves in Mae Sai district, about an hour’s drive from Chiang Rai.

But on that sunny afternoon, following their regular football practice, a group of 12 players and their coach, decided to have a quick excursion to the local caves. At the time it was only going to be a quick hour of exploring the caves before heading home. It didn’t quite go as planned.

Head coach for the team, Nopparat Khanthawong, turned on his phone at 7pm that night to find more than 20 missed calls from concerned parents asking where their children were.

The next morning police found the young men’s bikes, bags and a few sets of shoes at the mouth of the cave. A deluge overnight had trapped the exploring team inside. It was clear to the authorities that they were unable to get inside the flooded cave. Were the team still alive? How could they get them out?

Miracle at Tham Luang - The Thailand cave drama unfolds, a year on | News by The Thaiger

Over the next two to three weeks a massive international rescue team would amass at the caves in a mission to figure out how to get the team out. Heavy machinery was flown in, caving experts summoned, Thai Navy Seals donned scuba gear, a long way from Thailand’s coast they were trained to protect.

The Mu Pa (Wild Boar) football team were all aged between 11 and 16 years of age. The assistant coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong was 25 years of age. It would be another ten days before the outside world even knew if the team had survived the flooding of the cave.

The search for the team was an international news hit. As the Thai government called in expertise from around the world, an international media contingent also streamed into the muddy surrounds of the cave where a makeshift tent town was being constructed to handle the feeding and sanitation needs for the throngs of international assistants.

Local villagers jumped to action bringing food daily and providing lodgings to the to hundreds of people.

On day ten the 13 team members were finally found. UK divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen were making another exploratory dive, as part of an international team of expert cave divers which had by now made several missions into the muddy waters. The team were found on a sandy ledge some 4 kilometres inside the Tham Luang Cave system.

Miracle at Tham Luang - The Thailand cave drama unfolds, a year on | News by The Thaiger

But finding the Mu Pa team was the easy part compared with what was to follow.

None of the boys were competent swimmers, in fact most of them couldn’t swim at all. Rescuers looked for access from above the caves in hopes of drilling down to rescue the team. As the days passed messages were passed on from the boys via divers to their parents. Food was brought in. It was even mooted that the team could ‘live’ in the caves for up to four months and wait out the wet-season and the flooding waters to subside.

At the end of the second week though the situation became more urgent as heavy rains threatened and it was feared the waters would continue rising and drown the team. They needed to get them out, now.

Whilst putting the young men in wetsuits and diving gear and swimming them out one by one was considered, it was fraught with danger because of their complete lack of experience and the risk of panic whilst crawling through the narrow underwater sections. Divers, who had been through the narrow, flooded chambers a number of times, said it was a major challenge for them, despite their years of experience.

At this stage two Australian cave divers, Richard Harris and Craig Challen who were also medical professionals, came up with an outrageous plan.

They would sedate the team, put them on stretchers, and bring each of them out with a diver steering the stretcher at the front and back. Every few hundreds of metres other divers and medics would be waiting, check on the boys’ vital signs and re-administer the sedation. Everyone had to be trained quickly and the boys informed of what was going to happen. Only one of the team spoke any English.

It was an extremely risky plan but the pressure was on to get the team out before the rains returned. It was decided to go ahead with the dangerous extraction mission.

Between July 8 and 10 all of the young men were rescued from the caves by the cobbled-together international team in three waves.

The entire rescue effort involved over 10,000 people, including over 100 divers, local and international rescue workers, staff from 100 Thai government agencies, 900 police officers and 2,000 soldiers.

Ten police helicopters, seven police ambulances, 700 diving cylinders, and huge pumps removing more than a billion litres of water from the caves, were deployed during the rescue mission.

There was one fatality, Saman Kunan, a 37 year old former Thai Navy SEAL died of asphyxiation on July 6 after delivering supplies of air between chambers in the cave in the days before the team was discovered.

A year later, the Tham Luang Caves have become a major northern tourist attraction. Visitors go there with a fascination to see where the drama of the footballers, their coach, the rescuers, world media and local community unfolded in a totally unexpected drama.

The rising number of tourists persuaded the Department of National Parks to upgrade Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non forest into a new national park. The site now covers 12,000 rai of land. There is a new attraction near the cave mouth showcasing the people, the drama, maps, statistics, photos and a huge 13 metre mural. There is also a statue of Saman “Ja Sam” Kunan, the one fatality from the drama whose bravery reminds visitors of the hundreds who made the plunge into the muddy cave waters to save the team.

And then there was all the unsung heroes like local Rawinmat Lueloet, who offered his laundry’s services free for two weeks to tend to the mud-stained clothes of rescuers. There were so, so many others.

In the wake of the rescue the members of the football team, some who had been ‘stateless’ – living in Thailand without a nationality or passport – have been granted Thai nationality. The team members and Ekkaporn have also made a few trips overseas and will feature in a new series being produced by Netflix at the moment.

The Thaiger put together a very quick edit of some of the milestones of the mission in the frantic two weeks and hope you’ll enjoy reliving some of the amazing memories that started a year ago today.

Miracle at Tham Luang - The Thailand cave drama unfolds, a year on | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: Wikipedia

 



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Chiang Rai

Return to Tham Luang Cave – a personal perspective

The Thaiger

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Return to Tham Luang Cave – a personal perspective | The Thaiger

by guest writer Mikko Paasi

Now that is has been a year since the successful rescue of the Thai football team and their coach from the Tham Luang cave, I think it would be appropriate to share some footage from inside the cave to show how it looks like after the operation and without the muddy water.

As we know, the 13 kids got out just in time before the cave system flooded again. A few rescuers ended up having to hold our breath to dive out to safety. The cave then stayed flooded for 9 months, until March this year, after which we could finally reach the chamber where the team took shelter for 17 days waiting to get out.

After a week of diving the cave system last year in zero visibility, I had absolutely no idea how the restrictions looked like or how was the chamber where the boys stayed nor did I know if there would have been alternative route to the kids. I had my head full of questions that needed answers so that I could get peace of mind.

Read his full account with lots of videos HERE.

When I heard in January that there was a plan to attempt to re-enter the cave, I volunteered immediately. I was called in, together with cave experts Vern Unsworth and Joshua Morris, a Thai Navy SEAL, local park rangers, and other rescue personnel, to survey the cave conditions and document the massive amount of equipment left behind when the floodwaters forced us out.

Inside the cave, there was literally tonnes and tonnes of all sorts of equipment that was used to keep the water levels down and support the diving attempts during the rescue. We found tens of kilometres of different kinds of hoses, zip lines, electric lines, telephone lines, hundreds of air cylinders (there was even one tank still jammed in the cave ceiling reminding us of the power of the floodwaters), dive equipment, industrial pumps, tools etc. I also found some of our team’s equipment that we left behind, but this time we were not allowed to touch anything.

Return to Tham Luang Cave - a personal perspective | News by The Thaiger

“Those who say it cannot be done, shouldn’t interrupt people doing it” – 13 kids all out safe and sound!

To our surprise, once we got to the T-junction (about 1.7 km in) we found out that the passage leading to the chambers #7, #8, and #9 was still blocked by the floodwaters after 7 months and we didn’t get the permission to dive in so we had to turn around to come back another time.

We had gathered enough information on the state of the cave by now, so the Army could start forming a plan on how to move the equipment out and clean the cave, so that it could be opened to the public again next year.

The next attempt to get to the last chamber was planned for March, and the removal of the equipment would start then. By March the water level had dropped down enough to allow us to go further, but the Navy SEALs hit a dead-end approximately 2 km in, near the chamber #8. The sand level at that area had risen so high that it had blocked the whole cave system and there was no way in.

Our team was called in again, but this time to find a way through the sediment and to connect the now separated systems together.

Once again, I flew to Chiang Rai where Vern picked me up. We drove to Mae Sai, met up with Josh and his team of cavers from CMRCA, formed a plan and went in. This time we entered the cave with shovels. The plan was simple, we will dig our way in.

By the time we got to the cave, most of the equipment had been taken out. We found it fairly easy to get to the end of the cave where the sand met the ceiling.

To me it looked like there was no way of finding the right place to start digging. We had no idea if we would need to dig 10 or 100 meters to get through. Fortunately, for Vern and Josh, this wasn’t the first time in this kind of situation. After a little sniffing around the corners, they gave me a shovel and told me to ”start digging, get us out of here”! This would be my final test to earn my dry caver wings.

Over four hours and about 15 metres of digging later, we pushed through to the other side. Now the cave was reconnected again. Never have I ever felt more claustrophobic than here, digging my way through sand and mud, 2 kilometres inside a mountain, in a space the size of a coffin, with almost no air to breathe… not even when I was diving this same spot months ago.

Finally we were all through, and could find the way into the ”Sam Sao”, the chamber where the kids stayed.

The sand level was so high that it was impossible to recognise any of the places. We also realised that it would have been completely impossible to keep the children alive, and the life-line open to them, during the long monsoon, had they been left inside to wait for the cave to dry.

Once we reached the last chamber, we were greeted by a flashback of memories on what happened here in June/July last year. To our surprise, the chamber was at Pattaya beach and not after it, as told by many stories. Also, the size of the chamber was a surprise! How giant it was, measuring over 50 metres in length and over 10 metres in height, giving the kids plenty of dry ground to stay on. Everything was intact with all the space foils, air tanks, and other rescue equipment all over the place.

At the upper end of the chamber, there was a 6 metre deep hand dug tunnel, a desperate attempt to escape. Right next to it, there was a simple altar with some decorations and a 20 baht note that the boys had offered to the spirits to help them get out.

I remember thinking that this note did its job and was well spent, since here we are now. The youngest of the boys is now 12 and living his life fully. We took that note back, and it is now on display at the Rescue Museum in Mae Sai.

On the next day, we returned to the chamber. This time with the Navy SEALs and one of the boys, who was kind enough to tell us their story while sitting in the actual spot where it all happened. You can only imagine the emotions going through us at that time.

Later that day, we walked to the far end of the cave to discover many writings on the walls. These were writings by the desperate team of 13 young boys trapped in the dark.

As a conclusion for my search of answers, I can now say that the restrictions in the cave during the dive were pretty damn narrow. Even if at some point there would have been more space, we always had to push through and follow the line, we could not let go of the line. Also just the sheer amount of sand in the cave after the monsoon would have made the access to the kids impossible, had they been left there over the rainy season. And last, seeing the chamber #9 and its size makes it easier to understand how the kids were able to survive through the 17 days.

We got a million other answers too, learned a lot about the situation and I got to document the whole cave system during those first visits back to the cave. However, I will keep the secrets to myself, for now.

Amazing being the first ones in Sam Sao (9th chamber) after the rescue operation.

Return to Tham Luang Cave - a personal perspective | News by The Thaiger

Most of our ‘Euro Trash Team’ – Erik Brown, Mikko Paasi, Ivan Karadzic, Claus Rasmunssen, Ruengrit Changkwanyuen, Narinthorn Na Bangchang and Ben Raymenants. Missing from the pic: Bruce, Chang, Maksym, Seva, Nick and Por

Return to Tham Luang Cave - a personal perspective | News by The Thaiger

Hero Saman Kunan – Thai cave rescue. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten. RIP Saman Kunan.

Written by Mikko Paasi
PS. Start young and never stop exploring.

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Chiang Mai

19 million baht put aside to rehabilitate controversial Doi Suthep land in Chiang Mai

The Thaiger & The Nation

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19 million baht put aside to rehabilitate controversial Doi Suthep land in Chiang Mai | The Thaiger

The Thai Judiciary Office says they will allocate 19 million baht for the rehabilitation of land at the foot of Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep – recently the subject of controversy and protests from local activists and environmentalists.

The plot was initially set aside, then developed as a site for court officials’ residences, but Chiang Mai locals said the development was eating into forest land on hill considered historically sacred.

The construction of court officials homes, costing the government nearly 1 billion baht, was close to completion when persistent protesters brought construction to a halt.

Sarawut Benjakul, secretary-general of the Judiciary Office, told a Senate committee that the conflict should now be over.

“We have already vacated the plot and provided funds for rehabilitation.”

He added that the government has already budgeted 800 million baht to build homes for court officials as well as buildings for courts within the Chiang Rai province instead.

SOURCE: The Nation

19 million baht put aside to rehabilitate controversial Doi Suthep land in Chiang Mai | News by The Thaiger 19 million baht put aside to rehabilitate controversial Doi Suthep land in Chiang Mai | News by The Thaiger

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Chiang Rai

FOUND. The day the team were found in Thailand’s Tham Luang caves

The Thaiger

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FOUND. The day the team were found in Thailand’s Tham Luang caves | The Thaiger

It was twelve months, today, that the missing Mu Pa team, 12 young men aged between 11 and 16, and their 25 year old football coach, were finally located after nine days of frantic searching.

The team members had visited the Tham Luang cave after their routine Saturday afternoon football practice for a short excursion. After they headed in the rains started, flooding the cave, trapping them and forcing them deeper into the cave’s twisted passages.

By the time the two British divers had located the team the world’s media had become gripped with the story and an entire media camp city had started growing in the mud near the entrance to the caves. It would be another nail-biting week until the first of the team emerged from the caves.

Finding the team proved to be just the start of a challenging week as rescuers had to devise a safe way to get the team out. And there was more rain on the way.

FOUND. The day the team were found in Thailand's Tham Luang caves | News by The Thaiger

Relatives had been waiting patiently in a make-shift waiting area next to the mouth of the caves

“The twelve boys and their coach have been discovered alive following nine days of frantic searching. They were trapped by floodwaters in a cave complex in the far north of Thailand. The governor of Chiang Rai Province said rescue workers were providing care and managing their extended stay whilst they await a supervised extraction.

Divers reached the group after enlarging a narrow, submerged passageway that was too small for them to get through while wearing their air tanks.

The group, captured on video by one of the English specialist diver, were alert, appeared in good spirits and engaged in conversation with the rescuers. The first worlds they said, in English, were “Thank you.”

The Thaiger led the coverage of the missing team and their remarkable rescue.

• Read our first story when they were found HERE.

• And then a follow up story featuring the jubilant parents and carers who had been patiently waiting for some good news HERE.

And The Thaiger tribute to the rescuers and thousands of volunteers who worked to extract the team…

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