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Return to Tham Luang Cave – a personal perspective

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

Thailand non-profit offers Zoom calls with Santa and his elephant friends

Caitlin Ashworth

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Thailand non-profit offers Zoom calls with Santa and his elephant friends | The Thaiger

Santa Claus isn’t at the North Pole this year. He’s in Northern Thailand. And he’s not with elves. He’s mixing in with some of Thailand’s beloved elephants. Don’t believe it? Give him a Zoom call.

Zoom calls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with “Santa & his Elves” are offered by the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort and the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.

Zoom calls with Santa and his elephant friends are limited, and pricey! The effort is intended to raise money for the program which ethically cares for elephants that were formerly in the entertainment business. The reservation for a 20 minute call requires a $2,500 USD donation.

Those interested in supporting the elephant program can make a donation. “Elephant trunk calls” are also available during the coming year, but Santa won’t be around after Christmas.

The resort’s director of sustainability and conservation, John Roberts, says it costs $18,000 USD a year to feed just 1 elephant. A $20 donation feeds an elephant for one day.

“Since the start of the national lockdown in Thailand in March, we have taken in three elephants and their mahouts. The COVID-19 elephant refugees, whose camps were unable to care for them and would ultimately have left them unfriended and unfed, are now matched with friendship groups and, of course, have their own diet plan.”

To make a donation to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, click HERE.

SOURCE: Travel and Leisure

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Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai officials insist province is now safe to visit

Maya Taylor

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Chiang Rai officials insist province is now safe to visit | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Ryan Harvey/Flickr

Officials in the northern province of Chiang Rai are assuring potential tourists from the rest of the Kingdom that it is safe to visit, saying the Covid-19 situation is under control. Chiang Rai hit the headlines in recent weeks, when a number of Thai nationals entered the province illegally from Myanmar. After bypassing health checks and quarantine, several subsequently tested positive for the virus, resulting in a handful of local infections.

Now deputy provincial governor, Worawit Chaisawat, is anxious to assure the rest of the country that the situation has been brought under control. He says the province has recorded no new local cases since the beginning of December. The only new infections in the province are imported cases brought in by those returning through the proper channels and entering state quarantine.

Around 180 Thai nationals are thought to have been employed at the 1G1-7 Hotel in the Burmese border town of Tachileik. Some media reports and claims from local residents say the 100 room, 4 storey hotel was used as a centre for prostitution. It became a hotbed of Covid-19 infections, causing much of its Thai workforce to flee, crossing back into Thailand illegally. Worawit says the resulting mini-outbreak of infections has now been brought under control and those who visit the province are not required to quarantine on their return home.

“We need to spread the word that there are no new infections in Chiang Rai. Visitors do not need to quarantine, and they are welcome to travel here. A flora festival is coming.”

The Bangkok Post reports that yesterday, the province recorded 6 new cases of the virus, all in state quarantine. All are believed to have arrived from Tachileik. Thailand recorded a total of 28 new cases yesterday, including 1 case of local transmission in a Bangkok nurse who had close contact with a Covid-19 patient.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thailand

Returnees from Myanmar account for 9 of 17 new Covid infections today

The Thaiger

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Returnees from Myanmar account for 9 of 17 new Covid infections today | The Thaiger

Today, Thailand has reported 17 new cases of the novel coronavirus found in people entering Thailand from other countries, with 9 infected returnees coming from Myanmar through the Mae Sai district in northern Chiang Rai.

All 9 were women who had worked at nightspots in Tachilek, the Burmese border town, featuring the now infamous 1G1-7 Hotel, which was the site of a Covid-19 breakout. They returned to Thailand on Friday and tested positive on arrival. All returnees were sent to the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital for treatment, as it has been designated as the go-to hospital for returnees from the area.

4 other Thai nationals tested positive after returning: a woman from the US, a woman from Switzerland, a man from Japan and a woman from Bahrain. The other 4 cases were foreigners arriving by air from overseas destinations: a Swiss man from Switzerland, a Pakistani man from Pakistan, an Indian man from the US and a British man from the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai authorities are axing the idea for a mandatory 14 day quarantine for touristswho have returned from those areas back to other parts of Thailand, after the spike in cases from the border town Tachilek in Myanmar brought 38 local cases of Covid.

Dr. Prasit Watanapa from the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital says the coronavirus currently circulating in Myanmaris a different strain and is being transmitted 20% faster than the one detected in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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