By Tayo Ogunbiyi
On June 23, 12 young footballers aged between 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old coach ventured into the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand after completing a session of football practice and became trapped when heavy rains flooded the cave. The boys and their coach who are all members of a local association football team were reported missing a few hours later and search operations began immediately.
However, attempts to find them were hindered by rising water levels within the cave system and no contact was made with them for about 11 days. The rescue effort expanded into a massive operation amid concerted global public interest. After great efforts that involved delicate maneuvering through narrow cave passages and mucky waters, British divers discovered the missing footballers and their coach to be alive.
They were found to be on an elevated rock about 3.2 kilometers (2.0 mi) from the cave mouth. As much as finding them was exciting news, rescuing them alive was always going to be a tough task. The options available were limited. One of which was to teach the boys and their coach basic dive techniques to enable their early rescue or wait for the floodwaters to subside at the end of the monsoon season.
After days of pumping water from the cave system and a respite from rain, four of the boys were rescued on 8 July. Rescue teams hastened to get everyone out before the monsoon was predicted to resume on 11 July, bringing a potential 52 mm (2.0 in) of rainfall. By 10 July 2018, all of the boys and their coach had been rescued from the cave.
Over 1,000 people were involved in the rescue operation, including Thai Navy SEALs, volunteers and technical assistance teams from multiple countries. Such was the diversity of the rescue effort that many have termed it a United Nations coalition. The delicate nature of the operation made a rescue chief at one point dubbed it ‘Operation Mission Impossible’. Conditions were so dangerous that a retired Thai Navy SEAL, 38 year old Saman Kunan died on July 5 while trying to lay out oxygen tanks underwater in a tunnel.
No wonder wild jubilation erupted across the world upon news of a successful rescue operation. Cable new images of volunteers handing out free apples to journalists in celebration of the boys’ safe return brought great joy to the hearts of keen followers of the event across the world. President Donald Trump of the United States describes the operation as a “beautiful moment” in human history while German Chancellor, Angela Merkel described it as a “a wonderful message” to a hurting world. British Prime Minister, Theresa May, equally expressed her delight at the “amazing” success of the rescue effort.
On their part, the SEALs, who were central to the rescue effort revealed on their Facebook page that:”We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. But what is sure is that all the boys and their coach are now out of the cave”. Also, while congratulating the boys, their coach as well as the rescue team for the success of the operation, Federation of International Football Association, FIFA, the body that governs the running of football all over the world, offers to convey the boys and their coach to Moscow to watch the final game of the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Presently, the 12 boys and their coach, who are said to be in stable medical condition, are quarantined in a local medical facility where they are being properly observed by medics. Now that the rescue operation is over, it is pertinent to draw a few lessons from this highly intriguing episode. The first and, perhaps, most vital deduction is what can be achieved in the world when mankind is united, irrespective of language, tribal, cultural and other such differences.
Though the recue team that embarked on the dangerous and deadly mission was multinational in composition, it had only one mission: to save the boys and their coach alive. To achieve this, their language and cultural barriers never really mattered. What really mattered was their primary mission of rescuing the boys. Indeed, there was such a global agreement on the urgency of the rescue mission that American entrepreneur, Elon Musk, had to fly to Thailand with a mini submarine and an offer to help in any way he could. The lesson herein is that there is no global crisis that cannot be surmounted when the mankind is united to confront it.
One other equally fascinating lesson that could be taken in from the incidence is the amazing courage and bravery of the boys and their coach to stay alive in the face of such life threatening condition. Also tied to this is the courage of the rescue team to dare the odds, even at the risk of their own lives. What a wonderful message of gallantry and perseverance! Incredibly strong is, probably, the best way to describe the boys’ hazardous staying power and eventual escape passage. In an increasingly tough world where socio-economic conditions are becoming quite harsh, the boys have taught us a vital lesson in perseverance and relentless survival instinct. In-spite of the obvious dilemma they were in, the boys never gave in to neither gloom nor self-pity. It was, indeed, amazing to see them in a flickering video smiling and giving the victory sign when they were found 10 days after they were declared missing.
The high sense of responsibility demonstrated by their 25 year old coach, who was trapped in the cave for 18 days with the boys, is equally admirable. In a letter he sent to parents of the kids after they were found to be alive, the coach promised to protect and look after them even at the risk of his own life. Not only this, he apologized to the parents for whatever trauma they might have gone through in view of the incidence. This is a huge lesson for political leaders, especially in Africa.
Back home in Nigeria, one very considerable message that we need to really take home from the whole incidence is the need to attach huge value to human lives. Watching the highly delicate and complicated strategy put up by the Thailand government to rescue the kids and their coach couldn’t but made one think what could have happened if the event had taken place in motherland.
So much blood is being spilled in the land that it seems no longer a big deal to us as a people. Sadly, we seem to be getting used to a stereotyped form of response to bloodletting. First, different people pay visits to sights of gruesome murderous acts, commensurate with those involved, promise heavens and earth until there is another incidence when the whole circle is repeated all over again. The Thailand cave episode is a veritable template for us on the need to review our attitude to the sanctity of human life. The truth is that without the people, there can be no nation.
Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja