The whole truth about the rescue of children in a cave in Thailand

Tam Luang Cave

Today I went to hear two former fellow technicians, a Belgian and a Canadian, who were involved in a cave rescue in northern ThailandBut a year and a half ago. Briefly for those who, like my mother, do not read the news: In June 2018, a group of schoolchildren with their sports coach went trekking in Tam Luang Cave, and while the children were far inside, a mudflow came down from the mountains and completely flooded the entrance and several more kilometers deep into the cave.

The children sat for 12 (!) days in darkness, without food, on a small island of wet and cold sand surrounded by water, and they did not go crazy only thanks to the incredible efforts of a young coach who engaged them in meditation and chanting mantras, and encouraging, supporting and entertaining conversations too.

I have climbed enough caves in northern Thailand to be able to imagine the conditions in which the children find themselves. Even in the dry season, these caves are very humid and stuffy, and after a few hours spent in the depths of them, there is a strong desire to get some air. So 12 days in darkness a few kilometers from the entrance on a wet island is hell.

I actively followed the news on the topic and well remember the official version that the children were allegedly quickly taught the basics of diving and they obediently swam all 4 kilometers to the exit with the support of the rescuers. It sounded, admittedly, implausible to anyone who can imagine cave diving with zero visibility in yellow and muddy, like porridge, water in a narrow looping passageway between rocks.

It sounded crazy, to be honest, when you think about all the details and take into account the fact that the kids hadn't eaten in 12 days and were on the verge of insanity. So today, finally, I found out what really happened, and a lot of things fell into place.

The children were evacuated in full-face masks, on pure oxygen (the maximum depth was 8 meters), with their hands and feet tied and under general ketamine anesthesia, which had to be injected every half hour right through the wetsuit.

The rescuers were deployed in air bubbles along the entire length of the route, and each accompanied a child along a relatively short stretch of the route, handing off to the next colleague. All participants had a forearm pouch with ketamine-loaded syringes on their forearms so that the children could be dosed in a timely manner.

During the story, a picture appears on the screen: a lifeguard in a cramped rocky cave, up to his neck in muddy mud, with a flashlight on his forehead, and a child lying face down in a wetsuit with his hands and feet tied behind him. For some reason I was particularly struck by his bare pink heels, so defenseless against the background of everything that was going on...

So you watch tensely to see if bubbles are coming out of the water - you keep tracking the thin stream of bubbles. But the baby suddenly starts twitching, and you don't turn him upside down, don't call for a doctor, but you snatch a syringe of ketamine and stick it right through the suit into the muscle in his leg. The body goes limp after a minute, and you keep dragging him underwater on the rope, clasped in your knees and bumping into rocks, thinking that what's happening is bordering on insanity...

All of the children were rescued and came to their senses in the hospital. When the evacuation was over, the pump, which had been pumping water out of the cave the whole time, suddenly failed, and almost all the air bubbles were flooded - the rescuers miraculously managed to get out, scraping places at the very ceiling. During the whole rescue operation only one person died. And here's how. Let's go back a few days - to a time when even the most optimistic would not have foreseen a happy outcome.

On the fifth day, an old hermit, gray-haired, barefoot, wearing a monk's chiton, suddenly came down from the mountains to the camp. He wandered around the cave entrance, blessed the rescuers, read prayers, mumbled something to himself. He tied red lanyards with knots on the wrists of all the participants.

Then he suddenly stated that he had received a revelation from above. The revelation said that the cave was a woman, and the children were in her womb. And she would give birth to them only when she got herself a human husband. The rescuers giggled, the Thais whispered with fearful faces, the monk left and everyone forgot about him.

And a few days later, a Thai Marine died in a cave: they were all diving in shabby recreational equipment, with one cylinder and hoses dragging on the ground, but showing incredible willingness to sacrifice and fearlessness - a miracle he was the only one who died in those 12 days.

The next day the monk appeared again and reported that the cavewoman had received a husband, accepted the sacrifice, and today the children would be found. Alive. He blessed the rescuers and sat down on a rock to wait. The children were indeed found, hours later. You already know what happened next. To complete the picture, we should add that outside the mountain at the time Elon Musk and the SpaceX team tried to drill, but encountered a layer of impenetrable dolomite and was forced, after 25 meters, to retreat.

The hermit elder did not drill or chisel or make any unnecessary movements; he sat on the rock and waited for the revelation to come true.

This contrast of the two cosmogonies, the two archetypal carriers of Knowledge, seems to me, for some reason, to be the key to this entire story. As well as the role of the coach, which not everyone would be able to play with dignity. I would have been better at coiling ropes in troubled waters, which I can do much better than holding my children from madness and hysteria for 12 days while waiting for them to die. And thank God everything ended well.

Very impressed me with this story, now I will think about it a lot. And thank you, Dahab - again you brought amazing people to my shore...

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