Thai cave drama captivated world

EDITORIAL

As the days passed after news first broke last month that a soccer team of 12 boys and their coach were lost in a flooded cave system in northern Thailand, the chances they were still alive seemed increasingly remote.

Then, 10 days after they entered the Tham Luang cave network following a practice, two British cave-diving experts — at the forefront of a rescue operation involving 1000 people — discovered them perched on a rock shelf 4.5km into the water-filled cave.

“How many of you?” one asks, in remarkable video footage.

“Thirteen!” came the reply.

“Thirteen? Brilliant!”

The euphoria of discovery felt around the world was quickly tempered by the immense challenges of getting the boys out, the possibility they might need to stay there for three to four months, and the risks posed by forecast heavy monsoon rain this week.

The treacherous nature of the mission was made very clear when one of the rescue team, a former Thai Navy diver, lost consciousness and died on the return trip from delivering air tanks five days ago.

Extraction of the boys over the past three days, with the final four and their coach brought out overnight, has been followed with baited breath around the globe. Other big news has been relegated by most major news networks as their audiences thirsted for the latest updates.

Mae Sai, where this amazing drama unfolded, is a remote border town that had a wild west feel to it when your editor visited in 1999, to cross into the Shan State of Myanmar — which had just opened to travellers after the military government gained a level of control through uneasy truces with insurgent ethnic armies, that were profiting from the drug trade.

It seems not much had changed, before this global attention. A recent visitor described the Myanmar side of the border as depressing, while the Lonely Planet says: “At first glance, Thailand’s northernmost town can appear to be little more than a large open-air market” and warns that occasional fighting within Myanmar or disputes between the Thai and Myanmar governments can lead to the border being closed temporarily.

As the days passed after news first broke last month that a soccer team of 12 boys and their coach were lost in a flooded cave system in northern Thailand, the chances they were still alive seemed increasingly remote.

Then, 10 days after they entered the Tham Luang cave network following a practice, two British cave-diving experts — at the forefront of a rescue operation involving 1000 people — discovered them perched on a rock shelf 4.5km into the water-filled cave.

“How many of you?” one asks, in remarkable video footage.

“Thirteen!” came the reply.

“Thirteen? Brilliant!”

The euphoria of discovery felt around the world was quickly tempered by the immense challenges of getting the boys out, the possibility they might need to stay there for three to four months, and the risks posed by forecast heavy monsoon rain this week.

The treacherous nature of the mission was made very clear when one of the rescue team, a former Thai Navy diver, lost consciousness and died on the return trip from delivering air tanks five days ago.

Extraction of the boys over the past three days, with the final four and their coach brought out overnight, has been followed with baited breath around the globe. Other big news has been relegated by most major news networks as their audiences thirsted for the latest updates.

Mae Sai, where this amazing drama unfolded, is a remote border town that had a wild west feel to it when your editor visited in 1999, to cross into the Shan State of Myanmar — which had just opened to travellers after the military government gained a level of control through uneasy truces with insurgent ethnic armies, that were profiting from the drug trade.

It seems not much had changed, before this global attention. A recent visitor described the Myanmar side of the border as depressing, while the Lonely Planet says: “At first glance, Thailand’s northernmost town can appear to be little more than a large open-air market” and warns that occasional fighting within Myanmar or disputes between the Thai and Myanmar governments can lead to the border being closed temporarily.

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