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Cave Divers Mobilized Quickly To Help Trapped Soccer Team

Jul 3, 2018
Originally published on July 3, 2018 5:55 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And here's the exchange heard round the world...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How many of you?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: They're all alive.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Thirteen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thirteen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yeah, 13.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Brilliant.

KELLY: ...The voices of the British rescue divers who last night reached 12 boys and their soccer coach deep in a cave in northern Thailand. The group had been trapped since June 23. It is still unclear when or how they will get out. In a few minutes, we'll put questions about that to our reporter in Thailand who's been outside the cave.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

First more on the international mission to find the soccer team. Those divers we just heard are Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. They're volunteers with the British Cave Rescue Council. Earlier today, I spoke with Bob Whitehouse (ph). He's vice chairman of the group.

BILL WHITEHOUSE: There's a British caver living locally to the cave who was fairly quickly on the scene when the alarm had been raised when the boys had gone missing. He got in touch with a colleague in the U.K. who was also a cave diver. He passed the message on to a couple of other cave divers. They then got in touch with the British Cave Rescue Council. Very often, these rescues - they start as an informal approach from caver to caver because the caving world is very close. So what happened? Last Tuesday, the Thais did ask for help.

SHAPIRO: What was required to actually reach the people who they didn't know at the time were still alive and holding out in there after all these days?

WHITEHOUSE: When they got there on last Wednesday, unfortunately the weather conditions were deteriorating. And the flooding in the cave had worsened, which meant that they - although they did a couple of preliminary dives, it was then not possible for a number of days to dive realistically or safely because of the flood of the water coming in through the cave, the torrent, and the lack of visibility in the water. Things got better just before the weekend because the weather relented somewhat. Water levels retreated a bit, and they suspended sediments in the water that made visibility difficult again. Things got better with that, so diving restarted.

Two of these divers - they were sort of pathfinding through the flooded cave, laying a guideline as they went. And after about - on about their third dive, they got through to where the party were and were able to make contact. And you've probably seen the clip or film when they did make contact.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're coming. It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Many people are coming.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Many, many people.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We are the first. Many people come.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You have been here 10 days. You're very strong.

SHAPIRO: We've heard that the soccer team was about a mile into the cave. I know what it means to walk or to run a mile. I have no concept of what it means to cave dive for a mile. Can you just put that into perspective?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, the actual flooded part of the cave - it was about 1,500 meters. About half of that was full of water. The other half - there was air space in places above the water.

SHAPIRO: Your organization has such a specific mission tailored exactly for this purpose. How often are you called upon to do a rescue mission like this?

WHITEHOUSE: Very rarely fortunately. Every - I suppose in the last 15 years or so, it's been about every four years - 3 1/2 - four years.

SHAPIRO: Does this situation strike you as extraordinary that 13 people survived for nine days trapped in a cave like this?

WHITEHOUSE: Yes. I mean, yes. You can't pretend otherwise. It is extraordinary. What more can you say other than that? And the fact that they were all found alive is fantastic.

SHAPIRO: Your colleagues who carried out this rescue have such a specialized set of skills. How does somebody become one of the best cave divers in the world. I mean, how did these people get into this field?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I mean, they start as cavers. And then they take up cave diving because there's - one of the big things cavers want to do is to find more caves. Most cavers can get as far as the - when the cave is full of water, the cave divers will try and dive through the flooded bits to get into other parts of the cave beyond the flooded bits. And it's the kind of people they are. They're very careful people. I mean, you would think people involved in something like that - you'd think they would be sort of gung-ho adrenaline junkies. Well, nothing could be further from the truth because you have to be very careful, very measured and very skilled.

SHAPIRO: Bill Whitehouse, thanks so much for joining us.

WHITEHOUSE: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: He's with the British Cave Rescue Council. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.