New Delhi : The daring rescue of 12 junior Thailand football players and their coach trapped in a flooded cave three years ago has been made into a movie, for the first time giving insights into the dangerous rescue operation by an international team of cave divers.
‘The Rescue’ by Oscar-winning American directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin is a major draw at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which began last week. Part of the prestigious TIFF Docs programme, ‘The Rescue’ reveals the tensions and anxieties behind the rescue operation involving world class cave divers and medical specialists from around the world.
The junior football team of 12 players aged between 11 and 16 and their coach were trapped in the Tham Luang cave, one of the longest cave systems in Thailand, when they went in after a practice session in June 2018. Heavy monsoon rains flooded the cave entrance blocking their way out. The harrowing incident grabbed headlines across the world with anxious friends and families praying for their safe return. The children were celebrating a birthday party for one of them when water level began increasing inside the cave.
‘The Rescue’, a documentary film by Vasarhelyi and Chin, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for ‘Free Solo’ about adventure rock climbing, tells the story of the rescue from the point of view of the rescue team comprising famous cave divers and specialist doctors from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, China and Belgium.
As the Thailand military and its Navy Seals began the rescue mission, they soon realised the danger lurking inside the flooded caves beneath the Doi Nang Non mountains bordering Thailand and Myanmar. A British caver named Vern Unsworth living in Chiang Rai convinced the province’s governor to seek assistance from outside, bringing in two world class British cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. The mission received the invaluable experience of Unsworth who had explored and mapped the caves.
“I have been involved very heavily with the exploration of the cave,” says Unsworth, called by Thais as the “crazy foreign caver” who played an important role in the planning of the rescue. The initially 6.5-km long Tham Luang cave, the sixth longest in Thailand, had grown in size to 10km over the years.
Stanton and Volanthen, who realised the grave risk involved inside the heavily flooded caves and the possibility of not finding them alive, almost gave up their mission before deciding to use their experience and skills to mount a search. The divers’ efforts finally succeed when they locate the children ten days after they went missing.
“Can we go outside?” was the first question the children asked after they were discovered in a high ground inside the cave. “You are very strong, very strong,” Stanton told them. “We are hungry,” the children responded. A motivational exercise by Volanthen soon followed to keep the spirits of the children high. The rescue team planning the extraction of the children and the coach roped in Australian doctor Richard Harris and cave explorer Craig Challen to ferry the children out under sedation.