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The Great Cave Rescue The extraordinary story of the Thai boy soccer team trapped in a cave for 18 days

In the late afternoon of what had been a relatively ordinary day in Mae Sai, a town of relative obscurity in the northern corner of Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, once considered as the hot spot of the “Golden Triangle’ until about 2002, the local boys soccer team, the Wild Boars were finishing their training.

A trip to The Cave of the Sleeping Lady with their young coach was to be undertaken at the end of the session. The team mounted their bicycles, rode to the cave, left them on the railing outside and entered the Tham Luang Caves, also leaving behind them their small backpacks. After all they were only going to be gone a small time.

By nightfall, when none of the team had returned, the alarm was raised, setting off one of the biggest rescue missions ever undertaken with success simply a word, not a real expectation. The rainy season had arrived early bringing with its unprecedented rainfall, rainfall that was not to stop for days, compounding the danger and difficulty of the task to be undertaken.

Over the following 18 days the world watched, prayed and held its collective breath as experts from around the world gathered, the Thai authorities marshalled their forces, and undertook what was to be one of the most professional, sophisticated and complex rescue missions ever mounted.

As the days dragged relentlessly onward, the boys had been discovered at a location with higher ground within the cave system, unable to leave because of rising water levels in the caves. Divers did their best to support the boys and their coach but could not, due to the complexities of the narrow track into the caves, get help through or the boys out.

Cavers and Cave diving experts were called to assist, locals scoured the Mountain ranges in the hope there may be another way in yet undiscovered and the massive pumps kept on pumping out millions of gallons of water from the caves, in the hope that levels may lower long enough for the boys to be able either walk out or help to get into them.

In the end and when time was running out for the boys, a most sophisticated, daring rescue was mounted with the help and assistance of doctor Richard Harris and his long-time cave diving partner Craig Challan, whom with the support and assistance of the Thai, American, Chinese and British divers, saw the boys and their coach rescued from the caves.

James Massolla has done a masterful piece of work in recalling the tension and inspiration of those incredible days, when the world stopped for a minute, and the huge, overwhelming, feeling of relief when the mission was successfully completed, with only the tragic loss of one Thai Navy SEAL diver who died in the lead up to the rescue.

In his presentation of the rescue mission Massola has ascertained the facts without dressing them up, paid tribute to all the volunteers and so many others who willing played such important roles, in what was to be so very much larger and dangerous that ever anticipated.

Today, the site of the rescue a has become a pilgrimage site, candles burn, flowers are laid and life, time and the Sleeping Lady go on doing what they have alwys done, remain silent and watch over the caves, the mountains and the countryside where the world came together in harmony, on a mission to rescue the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach.

AuthorJames Massola
PublisherAllen and Unwin
DistributorAllen and Unwin
ReleasedNovember 2018