Thailand’s Cave of “Miracles”: A saga of human endurance and global collaboration


Hedwig Lewis SJ

People across the world were gripped by the recent saga of the 12 young soccer players and their coach in Thailand, On June 23, the Wild Boars junior team had just finished a weekly soccer practice and as planned, went to celebrate the birthday of one of their members, at the Tham Luang Nang cave.

Shortly after they had entered it heavy rains suddenly partially flooded the cave, blocking the exit and forcing the group to venture deeper into the cave to avoid the rising waters. The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their assistant coach, 25, were found alive and well ten days later by divers who were scouting for them. An unprecedented and “incredibly dangerous” underground rescue operation dubbed “Mission Possible” ensued. It involved a complex strategy executed in near-zero visibility, frigid water, powerful currents, and a labyrinth of tunnels along a 4 km stretch. All 13 were brought out safely by professional cave-divers from multiple countries.

The Thai navy SEAL unit that spearheaded the operations commented on its official Facebook page: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what…” One would like to believe that it is a blend of supernatural intervention, super technology, and yes, global humanitarian collaboration at its ‘optimal’ best.

We often epitomize the miraculous with the coincidental, the extraordinary, or even as Providential. In this context, one may discover a series of “miracles” that constituted the success of what is now referred to as their “Great Escape”.

1. The boys had visited the cave on earlier occasions. This time they risked going in to celebrate the birthday of one of their team-mates. The snacks they were carrying would provide them nourishment to survive the initial shock of the disaster. Fortunately, they were armed with torches they would use sparingly as well in the pitch dark cavern.

2. The limestone rocks sponged water from the heavy rainfall. The boys collected the drops of water that trickled down; the one basic necessity for survival.

3. Only one of the boys spoke English. It helped when the first rescuer, an Englishman, made contact with the group.

4. Ekapol Chantawong, the 25-year-old assistant coach was more than a sportsman. He was a father-figure – supportive, protective, authoritative – which in no small measure helped offset the boys’ fear and unpredictability, prevented them wandering off and getting separated. He rallied their spirits, rationed their food and water, insisted in keeping themselves clean to avoid infection, comforted them during the ten days of isolation, and cuddled them in the “huddle” which protected them all from hypothermia.

“Eka” was also an ex-Buddhist monk. The abbot of the monastery sent his former monk a note that read: “Be patient. Try to build your encouragement from the inside. This energy will give you the power to survive.” Eka taught the boys to meditate, so as to remain “cool, calm, and collected”. The team members were seen meditating in a widely shared video of their discovery by the British divers. They had developed the will to survive. Some of them may have experienced various degrees of anxiety, fear, confusion, vulnerability and dependency, and perhaps hopelessness. Yet, the doctors who reached them were amazed at how fit they were physically and mentally.

Interestingly, it was the boys themselves and their coach, who decided the order in which each would be rescued. The coach kept himself for last.

5. The boys attended different schools in the Chiang Rais province of northern Thailand. Belonging to a team, they were trained tin the skills of cooperation that their game demanded. Now they would extend that trust to their rescuers and “buddy dive” to freedom.

Incidentally, the divers had instructed to take the operation as an “adventure” (with its element of exhilaration) rather than as a “challenge” (which is fraught with inevitable tension).

6. The search for the boys at the cave began a few hours after their disappearance… but proved hazardous because heavy rains kept flooding the cave. Then news reached Vernon Unsworth, a British insurance consultant who had a hobby of exploring and studying cave. He had explored miles of Tham Luang cave over a decade, and had even mapped it. Unsworth helped Thai authorities get in touch with the British diver who eventually discovered the boys and set the whole rescue operation in motion. The rest is history!

Interviews with military personnel and officials detailed a rescue “assembled from an amalgam of muscle and brainpower from around the world:” 10,000 people participated, including 2,000 soldiers, 200 divers and representatives from 100 government agencies.

There were about a hundred rescuers inside the cave for each rescue operation, and each boy was handled by dozens of people during their perilous movement through a total of nine chambers.

The battle-cry of the Thai Navy SEALS is “Hooyah”. To all people of goodwill who bared their hearts in and around that Cave of “miracles” in Thailand – a mighty HURRAH!

(Hedwig Lewis SJ, a Jesuit priest, is the author of several psycho-spiritual and professional books. Website: < http://joygift.tripod.com> Contact: hedwiglewis@gmail.com)

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