What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How divers rescued the Thai boys soccer team from the ‘most hazardous place imaginable’

The daunting and incredible rescue of a dozen boys trapped with their coach in a flooded cave complex in Thailand completed against very difficult odds today, 18 days after the group was first trapped. John Irvine of Independent Television News reports, then William Brangham talks with The New York Times’ John Ismay.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to the daunting and incredible rescue of a dozen boys who were trapped with their soccer coach in a flooded cave complex in Thailand.

    The rescue was completed against very difficult odds today, 18 days after the group was first trapped. It took dozens of divers and hundreds of volunteers from around the world.

    William Brangham will be here in a moment with more about the heroic rescue, but first this report from Thailand by John Irvine of Independent Television News.

  • John Irvine:

    He was in good hands.

    This is the best view we have had of any of the courageous 13 and the rescue mission that’s captivated the world. We could make out two drips attached, a neck brace, and a blue hood to protect his eyes from the daylight.

    With gentle care, medics and soldiers stretchered the child to his airlift. The Thai army helicopter that had been waiting all day had room for a second boy as well. Identified only by their escape numbers, these teammates being flown out of here were 10 and 11.

    Their ability to survive and the daring of others have saved the lives of the Wild Boar football team of Chiang Rai. Any lingering fears that the worst might still happen were banished by the sight of ambulances ferrying 12 and 13. After 18 days, incredibly, all were free.

    At a news conference soon afterwards, the man in charge was applauded by the world’s media. In turn, the regional governor thanked the world for helping make it happen.

    From the Thai divers involved down to ordinary people, this is a country relieved, overjoyed and grateful in equal measure. They spent 10 days alone cut off from an outside world they must have feared would never find them.

    There were five of the team left to free today and, like those who had gone before, asked to dive for their lives. The back four and their coach never wavered.

  • William Brangham:

    To better understand just what a feat this rescue was, I’m joined now by The New York Times’ John Ismay, who wrote about the rescue, but was himself also a former diver for the U.S. Navy who did deep sea and salvage missions.

    Welcome to the “NewsHour.”

  • John Ismay:

    Thanks for having me.

  • William Brangham:

    So, take me back. When you first heard about these boys being trapped in this cave, being so young, being not able to swim, what was your reaction?

  • John Ismay:

    I thought they were all going to die.

  • William Brangham:

    Really?

  • John Ismay:

    Absolutely.

  • William Brangham:

    Is that just because you thought there’s no way we are going to be able to get them out in time?

  • John Ismay:

    Yes, pretty much.

    If you think about it, what they did was, instead of diving in a pool, which is safe, a controlled environment, which is where most people do their first scuba dive…

  • William Brangham:

    Just to learn to do it.

  • John Ismay:

    Exactly.

    They did it in the most hazardous place imaginable, which is a cave. Cave diving is so dangerous that no military unit that I’m aware of actively practices that mission.

  • William Brangham:

    Just they don’t even train for it?

  • John Ismay:

    No. The risks are so great, that the rewards don’t outweigh that.

  • William Brangham:

    So what is it about cave diving in particular that’s different, say, than the ocean or a lake, or what makes it so difficult?

  • John Ismay:

    The biggest thing is, you have no free access to the surface. So if you get into trouble, if your equipment malfunctions or if, say, you were to panic, which happens to some people, you just can’t dump the weights out of your vest and bolt to the surface, which could kill you, but also you could still live through that.

    But, in a cave, you just simply have to get out in order to survive.

  • William Brangham:

    Just because it’s a hard rock ceiling. There literally is no surface where there is air.

  • John Ismay:

    Exactly. Exactly.

  • William Brangham:

    So, can you walk us through as simply as possible how you understand that these Thai divers got these boys out?

  • John Ismay:

    My understanding is that the Thai navy divers from a Thai SEAL team were able to rig a static line along the way that provided some navigational stability for the divers as they made their way through.

  • William Brangham:

    This is like a guide rope from start to end, and you just sort of pull yourself along by it?

  • John Ismay:

    Exactly.

    Yes, absolutely, because, if you think about it, there’s going to be mud and dirt in that cave. And when it’s filled with water, that just becomes completely murky, really low to zero visibility. Even using a flash light, even a powerful one, you might not be able to see really at all.

    I mean, I have been in situations where I have held a light up to my dive mask and barely seen a glow, because it’s so murky.

  • William Brangham:

    Really?

  • John Ismay:

    So, really, you’re doing everything by touch and feel, which, for military divers, is pretty standard. It’s not diving in warm, clear water.

    The usual thing is cold, murky water for long periods of time. So these people were well set up for that. The hard part was getting in and out.

    For the kids, I can easily imagine it being terrifying. Or they could have seen it as an adventure. I don’t know. Either way, the hazard was immense and the hazard was real. It would be important to keep the children calm as much as possible to get them through each stage of the cave exit.

  • William Brangham:

    It’s nice to be able to report good news every now and then.

  • John Ismay:

    Absolutely.

  • William Brangham:

    John Ismay of The New York Times, thank you very much.

  • John Ismay:

    Thank you very much.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News