DUMAGUETE CITY – AS USUAL, HOLLYWOOD was falling over one another over who will get the rights to film the successful rescue of 12 Thailander Wild Boars football kids and their coach trapped in a flooded Tham Luan cave in Chiang Rai province, Thailand for 18 days – by four Thailand Navy Seals.
We -outside of Hollywood- must not trivialize, however, the details of the survival drama of the team and the bravery of four Thai Navy Seals who executed the 3-day, 19-hour rescue operation.
The kids survived on air and drinkable rainwater seeping through the cave crevices and the mentorship of their 25-year old former Buddhist monk Coach -”Ake” Kanthawong (a’ka Brother Ekk) who guided them through prayer and meditation to survive the crisis.
“Ake” lost his entire family when he was only 10 years old. He was raised in a monastery and left as a monk to take care of his grandmother and the football kids. He gave up his food ration oftentimes for the kids and would drink the last from any water that was available.
His Buddhist belief made him always think of others before himself.
“Ake” insisted that he be the last to be rescued in a drama witnessed by 300 international journalists camped outside the cave and watched by millions worldwide via the global TV networks.
Meditation made the kids conserve their energy, keep off depression and fatigue, improved sleep and in general made them positive and focused amid the life-threatening environment.
Two the 12 football kids spent their birthdays under duress in the ordeal.
Rains in that district of Mae Sai are known to be mercilessly heavy from July to October and would fill the entire cave before they water recedes from November to April.
The boys were sedated under anti-anxiety drugs attached to a stretcher and navigated inside muddy, chilling cave water over 4 kilometers from their rocky sanctuary towards the mouth of the cave aided by the four Navy Seals. The passages were often narrow and jutted with the sharp rocky formation and made a wrong turn fatally dangerous to one’s life.
Although it was carried out by four Thai Navy Seals, nations like the USA, US, Belgium, Australia and Scandinavia had earlier pooled their talents to study the terrain and strategize the best way to rescue the ill-fated children -whose parents kept vigil outside the cave and classmates in constant prayer and in tears for 18 nerve-wracking days.
In fact, it was two British volunteers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton who braved the dangerous, murky cave waters and who first discovered that the 13 were all alive. Their years of training made them “smell before we saw and heard them”. When the team shouted back- “13”- they all knew everyone was still alive and the group outside started the big Operations.
It was more than providential that the soccer kids were extremely healthy due to the rigorous training that enabled them to develop a strong immune system against the unhealthy elements inside the cave.
After their dramatic escape from sure death- the kids were treated in a nearby hospital and slowly went back to their normal, craving diet filled with chocolates and pork crackling (maybe equivalent to our chicharron). The coach and the entire team then later decided to shave their heads and will spend many days in the monastery to send thanksgiving and seek protection for their lives in the future.
Also, the Wild Boar team-and the rest of the world- paid tribute to the lone casualty – a 38-year old Thai Navy Seal who ran out of oxygen while delivering the oxygen tanks to the victims. His name Saman Gunaw, a triathlon athlete and experienced diver once said: “ We never know when we die, let us cherish every day of our lives.”
But the whole world will cherish his heroic memory forever -not unlike the brave firemen who crashed into the burning buildings to save the folks in the raging inferno in New York during 9-11. His body was flown to Bangkok for a Royal funeral accorded by the Thai government- a hero’s burial, for sure.
Our own Bible speaks of “better love no man has than one who gives his life for others.”, Such is the man Saman Gunaw was. May he edify many of us to think beyond our narrow interests on a daily basis.
It was gathered that on July 10, when the last man out of the cave premises- a doctor- was lifted out- the special pump that had been flushing out water to keep the cave from completely being filled in – conked out permanently for some reason.
That same day, the cave will have been completely inundated with flood waters -never to normalize until November later this year.
July 10, also happened to be the Feast Day of St Benedict, the Patron Saint of Caves.
Do you believe in miracles? We do. Shalom!
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