‘Horrific odds against them’: Dive experts laud the incredible cave rescue mission
Cave diving experts can now breathe a sigh of relief because it was far from a sure thing that the rescue effort in Thailand was going to be successful.
Toby Hamnett from the British Cave Rescue Council told ABC New Breakfast it was "one of the most difficult cave rescues I think we've seen", the likes of which we shouldn't expect to see again anytime soon.
"The statistical chances of something like this happening again is very, very low," he said.
Dr Peter Rogers from the University of Melbourne said three weeks ago, he didn't think the story was going to end well.
"I didn't say it the other day when I was here, but most cave diving rescues are unsuccessful," he told ABC News Breakfast.
Dr Rogers had "very grave fears" about whether the soccer team would even be found.
And even though finding them after nine days missing "turned the tables", there were still some "horrific odds against them" at that point.
"Whichever morning it was that they got the first four out, that was when I believed they'd get them all out," he said.
Diving out of the cave with the boys aged 11-16 was initially down the list of options because of how dangerous it was, even for people with experience.
But Dr Rogers says rescuers eventually went with that plan because they had their "backs to the wall".
"What became apparent quite quickly is that the chamber they were in was sealed … if the water came up, they were going to drown where they were," he said.
"If you were making a movie, which I guess probably will happen at some point, this really was the sort of plot that you would say was impossible."
Dr Rogers is a cave diver and he knows what he's talking about. He's a professor — of women's health research, not caves. But the day jobs of cavers can surprise you.
The celebrated British divers who found the Thai boys in the first place — Rick Stanton and John Volanthen — are a retired firefighter and IT consultant respectively.
And it was Adelaide anaesthetist Richard Harris who went to the boys in the cave to determine the order in which they were rescued, and was the last out last night.
Thai Ambassador to Australia Nantana Sivakua put the success of the mission down to bringing together support from all over the world.
"The secret is that we came together," she said.
Mr Hamnett expanded on what led to the success, pointing to three factors:
- The Thai authorities who he said were "utterly committed to ensuring that this went well"
- The volunteer cave divers, from UK and around the world
- The "will and the faith and the strength" of the 12 boys who were trapped
He said their coach, who was trapped alongside them, must be feeling proud about how they handled it.
"You could see that they were not panicking," Mr Hamnett said.
Dr Rogers agreed, saying the coach should be applauded for the mental state that he managed to keep the boys in.
"I think that he is one of the key heroes of this," he said.
He called it the model for how a dangerous mission should be operated, saying the right decisions were made all the way through.
That was no easy task. Dr Rogers noted that the rescue effort required coordinating not just the Thai police, army and navy, but volunteer cave divers from different countries, with different languages, and different ways of working.
But Mr Hamnett said what would be looked at was the death of the former Thai Navy SEAL who had entered the cave to lay oxygen tanks along the exit route.
"I think that there are some lessons that can be drawn there to try to prevent that sort of accident happening again," Mr Hamnett said.
"It was a devastating moment for the team. A real shame for his family. Our thoughts and our condolences are with them."
However, the news last night was only positive. And Mr Hamnett said the priority for those who helped make that success possible would have been a "very deep and long sleep", and perhaps a beer or cuppa.