Thailand Cave Search

This undated photo from video released via the Thai NavySEAL Facebook Page on Wednesday, July 11, 2018, shows rescuers hold an evacuated boy inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand. A daring rescue mission in the treacherous confines of a flooded cave in northern Thailand has saved all 12 boys and their soccer coach who were trapped deep within the labyrinth, ending a grueling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced volunteer diver and riveted people around the world. (Thai NavySEAL Facebook Page via AP)

Moments after their dramatic deep-cave rescue of 12 soccer team members and their coach was completed, Thailand’s elite Navy SEAL unit posted this summary message: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen are now out of the cave.”

And when all the rescuers were out safely, too, the SEALs offered the waiting world its singular universal word of enthusiasm — “Hooyah!”

A force of humanity had responded to help Thailand rescue these children. It was gripping drama, and as the SEALs’ message suggested, a “miracle” with nice applications of “science,” too.

As for that “or what” factor mentioned in the SEALs’ statement, that’s no mystery, folks — it was humans, from all over the world, at their best, applying skills, answering the calls for help, acting with courage and determination.

For a moment, those children were our children, their parents our neighbors. The Thai rescue force was strong, resolute — and never hesitant to ask for help. It was an international bonding experience.

All of us identified with the sense of adventure and curiosity that motivates teenagers everywhere. The “Wild Boars” apparently were on a planned outing, their adventure upset by sudden heavy rains and rapidly rising waters in the cave.

We imagined their sense of survival that led them away from the rising water and farther into the darkest of places.

We sensed their terror, waiting in the darkness, longing for their families, their limited food supplies running out quickly. And we thought of their families, especially their parents and their unimaginable anxiety.

Thai authorities were transparent and candid from the beginning of this saga, making clear that these children and their coach were in grave danger.

The clock was ticking.

Could it be that some countries, facing such complex uncertainties and realizing their limitations, would have simply written the children off as victims of a tragic accident?

Not Thailand. This would be that miracle, not a tragedy.

And the world rallied. More than a dozen countries sent military experts and support personnel, including 45 from the United States.

Hundreds would risk their lives to save 13.

Nine agonizing days in, two seasoned British divers, having miraculously worked their way through the cave’s muddy darkness, found the boys and their coach.

“How many are you?” the first diver asked the group cowering on a narrow ledge.

“Thirteen,” one lad responded.

“Brilliant!” the diver declared.

And so a “brilliant” miracle it would be.

Ekapol Chanthawong, the 25-year-old coach, is a former Buddhist monk, having spent a decade in a monastery. He reportedly taught his team to meditate and remain calm during their ordeal. A cartoon circulating in Thailand shows Ekapol peacefully meditating – with 12 little “boars.”

Too much of our news these days is packaged with hubristic disrespect and incivility, and partisan polemics. The Thai rescue operation seemed well-planned and infused with cooperative precision among the multi-national military and expert groups that answered the calls for help.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Charles Hodges, a Citadel graduate, was closely involved in the planning and the final operation: “It took every single one of us, putting our heads together and pushing aside any sort of political or cultural differences to find a solution.”

The dramatic outcome thrilled the world, but Maj. Hodges saw a larger theme: “What I take away from this is how much can be accomplished from teamwork, because it was pretty impressive.”

The Wild Boars’ story galvanized us beyond the divisions of befuddling immigration practices and inexplicable trade wars, and reminded us that the goodness of humanity is operable every day, in large and small ways, quietly trumping the loud ugliness now so inherent in political discourse worldwide.

Chief Narongsak Osottanakorn, who led the carefully planned mission, was one proud fellow: “Nobody thought we could do it. It was Mission Possible for Team Thailand.”

But then he credited humanity: “The heroes this time are people all over the world. … This mission was successful because we had power. The power of love. Everybody sent it to the 13.”

A Thai woman wearing a traditional dress stood near the cave’s entrance and spoke tearfully for all of us: “I remember all of their faces. … I felt like they were my own children and I wanted them to come home.”

So, prayers answered, the goodness of humanity validated, and the Thai people proudly and gleefully celebrating.

When the jubilation subsides, one name in the storyline of this brilliant miracle will forever be etched in Thailand’s history — and our memories: Saman Kunan.

He was the 38-year-old retired Navy SEAL who volunteered for the rescue mission. He died when his breathing apparatus failed during the planning and testing phases of the operation.

Even before the final rescues, Saman was being hailed as a national hero.


Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston city councilman. He can be reached at