Patricia Hruby Powell | A tale of the rescue of cave explorers in Thailand | Books
Do you remember the news of 12 young footballers trapped in Tham Luang cave in Thailand in 2018? Rescue teams from around the world have arrived to find and remove the Thai children and their young trainer from the depths of the Earth.
This remarkable story is told by Thai-American author Christina Soontornvat in “All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team” (Candlewick 2020) – and what a book it is!
Soonornvat gives the reader a deep understanding of Thai culture – people’s willingness to help, keep calm, and be cheerful. We learn about each of the boys; coach Ek, who grew up in a Buddhist monastery preparing to become a monk; concise details about the Thai volunteer engineer who pumped water from the flooded cave; Thai Navy Seals who are open water divers; the US military and its leader, Hodgson; British cave divers who swam the children 17 and 18 days after the start of the event – and much more.
The boys cycle to the cave after training with the Wild Boar football team on June 23. Barefoot, they enter the cave. The huge cave mouth soon becomes a tunnel, narrow but walkable, opens to the next chamber, then narrows further, opens into the next chamber, then narrows, until the boys have to crawl .
Then, unfortunately, the heavy rains start a month earlier than normal. The boys begin their return and realize their path is blocked by deep, tumultuous waters. Under Coach Ek’s guidance, they venture deeper and deeper to find the safety of dry ground.
Coach Ek expertly leads them to “Room 9”. Turn on their flashlights to save battery life. They lick the walls of the water, which is plentiful. And they are waiting. And meditate, which is familiar since they are all Buddhists. Coach Ek is masterful at keeping them calm.
That night, rescuers begin to arrive. In the meantime, we discover the porous rock which is already saturated with water. Vern, a British cave diver – the epicenter of the water-filled caves – lives locally. Open water divers (Thai Navy Seals) arrive, but they are unable to dive through the narrow tunnels. The US military is coming. The governor of Thailand becomes the coordinator of the system.
So many factions have to agree on how to save the boys – everyone has to compromise, but how best to do it? How can this be done?
Three more British cave divers arrive. The rain continues to fall and the cave fills with muddy, tumultuous water.
A Thai man living in Marion arrives by plane – one of many unpaid volunteers – and, out of order, begins to divert water from the top of the mountain. When he can’t get hold of PVC pipes, he makes gutters out of huge split bamboo. When he can’t get any rope or cable, he ties bamboo gutters with jungle lianas. Photos of makeshift technology and illustrations of water-filled tunnels are clarifying and terrifying.
The Americans bring in high-tech equipment. Police dogs are unable to detect boys. Nest collectors (for bird’s nest soup) and high tech crews search the mountain side for another entry into the deep cave. But no one knows by day 10 if the boys are alive. We readers know they are alive, but hungry. And that day, two British divers walked through the dangerous intersection of tunnels and swam an hour away to find the boys.
There is a video of this first meeting. The link is on my blog, like others. But how are they going to get the boys out of the freezing water? They think they have a 60 percent chance of success. It takes another eight days. Pick up the book and read the jaw-dropping and controversial details.
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning films “Josephine”, “Loving vs Virginia” and “Struttin” With Some Barbecue “, among others. She teaches community classes at Parkland College. For more information, visit talesforallages.com.