Evanston RoundTable, July 26, 2018
During these difficult and trying times, we find comfort in heroism and inspiration. That’s why the rescue of the 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old assistant coach from the flooded Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand has been so satisfying: it reinforces the notion that global teamwork, individual courage and effective decision-making can still work.
These kinds of gargantuan emergency rescues have mesmerized the world before. In October 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure Morales tumbled into her aunt’s backyard well in Midland, Texas. She was safely evacuated after a tense 56 hours. And in August 2010 33 Chilean gold miners were trapped following a cave-in. It took 69 days to get them out.
But the Thai rescue was in some way more daunting. Spelunkers consider Tham Luang among the most dangerous and challenging caves in the world. Storm waters threatened to completely flood the cave network, and none of the 11- to 16-year-old boys could swim, let alone dive. Calling it a miracle is not too much of an exaggeration. “We have done something that no one expected we could complete,” said Narongsak Osottanakorn, the rescue operations chief. “It was an impossible mission.”
Sometimes, given the right combination of elements, the impossible becomes possible.
It took incredible luck just to locate the boys, who had wandered into the cave as sightseers and then retreated deep underground to avoid the rising floodwaters. Two British divers happened on the group 10 days later while laying guide ropes through the cave’s more remote regions.
In a reminder of the quick and creative thinking that saved the American astronauts in the famous Apollo 13 space flight, the Thai rescue mission was accomplished with such spit-and-baling-wire solutions as plastic cocoons, floating stretchers and a rope line to guide the way through sunken caverns of jagged rock.
In the end 10,000 people took part in the rescue operation, including 2,000 Thai soldiers, 100 volunteer cooks and 200 divers from around the world.
Quite aside from the innate drama, stories like this capture our imagination because they provide a lovely metaphor for a better world, in this case a large cast of international experts and helpers whose dedication and expertise helped pull off a most improbable success. And luck worked in their favor too, though luck always favors the prepared.
Fred Rogers’ oft-repeated saying bears on this story too. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” he said, “my mother would tell me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
To see the new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is to be reminded that we don’t need periodic emergency rescues to be inspired by goodness and civility. They surround us all the time. We just need to know where to look.