Saturday, 22 September, 2018

Single Event Many Heroes

14 Jul 2018, 03:49 ( 2 Months ago)

By Professor Abdul Mannan
Professor Abdul Mannan. DF Photo.

When thousands of miles away, in US, children as old as six were separated from their parents and put in cages like animals because their parents were accused of crossing into US from across Mexico illegally in Thailand a Hollywood style real life block buster movie screenplay was un-folding. Thailand a country known for its political upheavals, overthrowing of elected govern-ments and military coups and of course for its sin cities has shown to the world that humanity and fellow feeling is not dead as yet. In the course of events involving the rescuing of the twelve trapped teen age soccer players aged between 11 and 13 years of the young Wild Boar soccer team of the Chiang Ray province in northern Thailand along with their 25 year old coach; the world witnessed that it can still produce heroes in times of national or international crisis and just not only villains. The boys were returning from a soccer practice when they decided to go on an adventure mission led by their coach inside the Tham Luang Nang Non caves of the Mae Sai district, a usual attraction for the tourists. The cave is complicated; treacherous in monsoon be-cause sudden flooding can become dangerous. It runs for quite a few miles deep inside with con-fusing twists and turns, fifteen inch narrow in certain bends and for new entrants there is no easy way out. To Ekpol Chanthawong, the coach the caves were a known territory and the adven-turous boys had trust and faith in him. However, least they realised that when on 23 June they entered the caves they will have triggered a concern not only throughout Thailand but also across continents.

An evacuation helicopter is seen in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, Thailand, July 10, 2018. All 12 boys and their football coach have been rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand after being trapped for 18 days. Photo Xinhua.Coach Ekpol along with his trainee players went two and half miles inside the dark caves when suddenly the monsoon rain began outside. At the entrance a sign reads ‘Danger!! From July-November the cave is flooding season,’ but adventurers often disregard such warnings and there is no one to stop anyone entering the caves disregarding the sign. In this part of Thailand mon-soons are quite heavy and flooding happens fast and especially in caves flood waters enter even faster. Before the little adventurers or their coach realised the caves was flooded blocking all the exit routes signaling an imminent danger of being trapped inside the cave which eventually hap-pened. When the boys did not return home that evening their families were worried and prayed. Impromptu search parties went looking out for them and it was only on the tenth day two British cave divers located the boys inside the caves, sitting dazed in a ledge deep inside the cave com-plex hoping a miracle would happen and they would be rescued. The word of locating the boys went around and the international media carried it beyond Thailand. From Bangkok to Brussels and Sydney to Sao Palo people of all faith prayed for the safe rescue of those trapped in the caves.

The first to respond were the Thai Navy Seal, those in service or who have retied but are experi-enced in cave diving. On 2 July, ten days after the boys went missing two British divers initially located the young adventurers. One diver, John Volanthen, reached the boys diving in the murky flood waters inside the cave and found the trapped 13 staring at him sitting on a ledge. To them he was a God sent relief. But to the horror of Volanthen he found that none of the kids knew how to swim forget about diving. While entering the cave Volanthen carried with him a line and tied it with the ledge and till the last survivor was rescued it was the only life line. Word of locat-ing the young adventurers spread fast and people not only from neighbourhood came with what-ever assistance they could carry from food to drinking water but also people from distant places responded and extended their hand of assistance. The international response was quicker then thought. Dr. Richard Harris, an anesthetist from Australia and experienced in cave diving who was vacationing in Bangkok cut short his vacation and rushed to Cheng Rai. He ventured inside the cave and, counseled those trapped and ensured them that they will be rescued while giving them some survival tips. He stayed with them three days and was the last man out of the cave after all thirteen was rescued. Along with Dr. Harris were four Thai divers who also stayed with the kids, nursing hem back to health and feeding them a high protein diet. When all present re-joiced after completion of the spectacular rescue on 10 July  Dr. Harris came to know that his ageing father expired the day before. Besides Dr. Harris there were 19 Australian personnel in-volved in the operation along with the Thai Navy SEALs, 36 US military Pacific Command per-sonnel and six rescue specialists from Beijing. Danish cave diver Ivan Karadzic took charge of a base camp. Other volunteers living in Thailand also came in to help, including Israeli diver Rafael Aroush. Hundreds of soldiers, volunteers and workers from 20 government agencies also partici-pated in the operation.  International companies offered equipment and expertise. This was an extraordinary show of camaraderie and solidarity that still brings hope to people constantly living in despair and hopelessness.

Not only people came to join the rescue attempt but the King of Thailand sent truck loads of food from the Royal Kitchen. Besides, the locals began to cook food for everyone involved in this seemingly impossible task. In came hundreds of print and electronic media journalists from Thailand and outside to give the latest update to the outside world. Makeshift communication towers were set up to facilitate internet connection and charge mobile phone.  Electricity genera-tors fueled the lights while field hospitals were available for those exhausted. Down the hill huge machines pumped thousand of liters of water every hour out of the cave complex. A long row of tents near the entrance to the cave housed the divers’ teams from where the divers entered the caves carrying their tanks and masks. During the operation former Thai Navy Sgt. Saman Kuman died after running out of oxygen in the cave.  He is seen as the bravest of all in the entire opera-tion. His death underscored the risks involved, as teams of two split off to escort each  boy out, one sticking close each child, to ensure he followed the guide ropes. When the first group of four survivors emerged from the cave on 8 July prayers grew louder across Thailand and beyond fol-lowed by another four on the following day. As the race against time continued the monsoon rain would start intermittently reducing the level of oxygen inside the cave to precarious level. On 10 July the last five survivors, including the coach was rescued. Thailand‘s Navy SEALs, who were the main architect in the entire operation celebrated the feat with a Facebook post on Tuesday evening that read: “All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave. We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science or what.” It was a single event which created many heroes, the young adven-turers trapped inside the caves, Thai Navy Sgt. Saman Kuman who sacrificed his life, the rescue workers who took extraordinary risk to save the lives of the kids, the Thai government who mo-bilized its resources in putting together the rescue mission, the media that shared the news of the operation across the globe, the locals who supported those involved in this seemingly mission impossible. Often events and incidents create heroes. One has to make best use of the situation.

Notes: The writer is the Chairman of University Grants Commission of Bangladesh and a former Vice-Chancellor, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh.

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