Canadian national Erik Brown was one of the many cave divers involved in the successful rescue of the 12 Thai boys and their coach who were trapped 4km (2.5 miles) inside a cave in Thailand earlier this year.
What started off as a team of four quickly turned into a national and international effort involving over 9,000 volunteers from all over the world. From Navy Seals, to Thai police, to even the cooks who volunteered to help in this time of need, the story of the rescue was truly one of bravery and sheer hope.
Brown painted the picture of how the rescue went from start to finish. It took a total of nine days to set up the intricate system of pulleys, cave lines, tank stations, and chambers throughout the cave. The cave itself was 6km (3.7 miles) long, and they found the boys at about 4km in. Brown believed that day nine was going to be the last day that they would search for the boys, as conditions were only meant to get worse, and the lines they were using were only going to extend another 10km inside the cave. Miraculously, they found them on the ninth day.
Once they found the boys, all alive and fairly healthy for having been trapped inside the cave for two weeks, they quickly started strategizing about how they were going to evacuate them. The first plan was to leave the children in the cave for four months until the rainy season ended and conditions inside the cave improved, but after much deliberation about whether or not the boys would have enough oxygen, or whether the water level would rise again in the coming week, they made the decision to evacuate as soon as possible.
Plans to provide periodic sedation injections to the kids and take them out on full-face masks proved successful in pool trial runs. When they got word that there were three days before the weather would come, and two to three days before the boys would become hypoxic, evacuation started.
After being placed on pure O2, full face masks, and sedated, each boy was carried by a cave diver in multiple segments of the underwater section of the cave, and placed on a stretcher and pulleyed through the dry sections. It was initially planned to have each boy come in 45-minute intervals, however the first boy did not come for about three and a half hours.
As the cave divers became more efficient and confident with each evacuation, they soon streamlined the process and were able to rescue four boys on the first day, four on the second day, and the remaining five on day three.
Brown spoke about how once they would pass a boy on, it would sometimes be over four hours before they would find out if that boy made it out alive. By day three, with the news that each and every single one of the rescues were successful, the world could finally celebrate.
This heroic rescue was by no means an easy one. The men had no time to orient themselves with the cave before diving began, they experienced one broken leg and two broken arms, and a Thai Navy Seal diver Saman Kunan lost his life while inside the cave.
Despite all the obstacles that faced these men, Erik Brown and his fellow cave divers who completed this rescue risked their lives for these twelve Thai boys and their coach. With the support of the entire world watching and the help of over 9,000 volunteers, we truly became “United as One.”
You can watch the full archived live-stream on Facebook or embedded below: