Thursday, July 12, 2018

What Price Human Life?

"We are so happy. I feel like a mountain has been removed from my chest."
"Do you know the film Armageddon, where they have to save the world? That's what this has felt like."
Thai Navy SEAL cave rescuer

"When the last person came out there was no cheering, just relief that we had finished our mission."
"Inside the cave it was dark and quiet. Everyone was just very focused."
Dr. Suttiwit Junpirom, former Thai Navy SEAL

"This is an important event in my life."
"There were times when I cried. Happy. Very happy to see all Thai people love each other."
Rachapol Ngamgrabuan, Chiang Rai press office

"They are forced to do something that no kid has ever done before. They are diving in something considered [an] extremely hazardous environment in zero visibility."
"I was very scared, because when I saw the diver and the kid in the horizon, we can't see that far but maybe about 40 metres, I still didn't know if it was a casualty or a kid."
"But when I saw that he was alive and breathing and seemed to be all right, it felt very good."
Ivan Karadzic, Danish diver, rescue team

"In the cave, the [Wild Boars coach Ekkapol Chantawong] taught the boys how to meditate so they could pass the time without stress. That saved their lives."
"He would rather die [himself] than lose a single Wild Boar."
Patcharadanai Kittisophano, monk, Phrathat Doi Wao temple
Thai military personnel inside the cave during the rescue operations.
Thai military personnel inside the cave during the rescue operations.

The 25-year-old assistant coach of the Wild Boar soccer team out of the border town of Mae Sai trained for ten years as a Buddhist monk. His parents died in Myanmar leaving him an orphan as a young boy and he entered the Buddhist monkhood in Thailand which gave him the emotional support he required to survive alone in the world. He works there now as a custodian as well as coaching the boys on the Wild Boar team. After he was ordained he took care of the younger novices. He was well accustomed to working with children, not all that much more of one himself.

During the ordeal trapped in the cave he taught the twelve boys he had led into the cave for an adventure after a practise game, how to meditate, to take their minds and thoughts up and away from what they were suffering. That day of entry they were celebrating the 17th birthday of one of the boys and had with them snacks and water. Those were apportioned among them all while they awaited rescue for ten agonizingly long days of being trapped above the flood waters on the stone wall of the cave's ledge just above the flood waters. He alone refused to take his share of the food.

The town where the Wild Boars play soccer, Mae Sai, is located close to where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos borders are congruent in the Golden Triangle of the region. The coach and three of the soccer players trapped in the cave are ethnic minorities and stateless. Among them a 14-year-old sent by his parents from Myanmar to Thailand to obtain an education superior to what he could attain in Myanmar. Adul Sam-on, attending school in the town is at the top of his class in academics and sports. He speaks English, Thai, Burmese, Mandarin and Wa, and it was he who communicated with the English-speaking rescuers who first discovered their presence.
Members of the Royal Thai Navy are pictured with the 12 schoolboys, members of a local soccer team, and their coach, who were trapped in the Tham Luang Cave network in Northern Thailand.
Members of the Royal Thai Navy are pictured with the 12 schoolboys, members of a local soccer team, and their coach, who were trapped in the Tham Luang Cave network in Northern Thailand.

The team and their coach were rescued in three attempts; the first took four, another four, and the third tranche of four boys and their coach for a total of five. They were given tranquilizers before diving under the direction and guidance of the professional diver/rescuers. There are hints that the drugs given them were not just to calm their nerves, but to dull their senses to the point of semi-consciousness to avoid panic. They were one kilometre deep into the side of the mountain and four kilometres within the cavern-and-passageway complex that the team of rescuers guided them carefully out of to safety.

It was the same team each time that undertook the mission, three times in succession with rest periods between each. When the first eight had been brought out and five remained to be rescued in a race against an anticipated monsoon onslaught heavier than normal, as their oxygen was being depleted in the cave, three Navy SEALs and an army medic remained behind with the five. They themselves emerged shortly after the final evacuation had been successfully concluded and all those rescued helicoptered to hospital.
Rescued Thai boys in Chiang Rai hospital
The boys were rescued during a complex three-day operation   AFP

It is over, the fear, trepidation, suspense, drama. An economist has estimated the total cost of the rescue operation at around $120 million. That works out to less than ten million for each of the stranded boys and their coach. Needless to say there was another cost, that of the life of the ex-Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan who, while delivering oxygen supplies to the cave with the boys awaiting rescue, himself running out of oxygen on his return to the outside, died on his mission.

Former Thai Navy SEAL Sgt. Saman Kunan died while returning from an operation to deliver tanks to the cave.
Former Thai Navy SEAL Sgt. Saman Kunan died while returning from an operation to deliver tanks to the cave.

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