It has been a busy week in the real world. There was the soccer world cup, Wimbeldon tennis, the tour de France – and in Australia, rugby league state of origin. But I'll bet I wasn't the only person with my interest focussed on the rescue of twelve Thai kids and their twenty-five-year-old soccer coach from a flooded cave.
When the kids were found after ten days I really didn't expect them all to get out alive and I know I wasn't the only one. Everything seemed to work against a rescue. They were deep inside the cave system, separated from the entrance by four kilometres of flooded, dark, narrow passages. They hadn't eaten from the time they entered the cave system. Many couldn't swim, let alone scuba dive. And the rains were coming.
You know what it reminded me of? The Martian.
That cave system was every bit as daunting as Mars. I can't imagine what it must have been like, fleeing from rising waters to end up sitting on a mudflat deep inside a notoriously dangerous cave system for ten days without food. Even if they had torches, surely they would have failed by then. Darkness underground compared to night is like comparing treacle with dirty water. The only sounds would have been their own voices and the rush of water. Just to be discovered, to see the lights, hear the voices of the British divers after all those days must have been such a relief.
But that was only the beginning. Now they had to get out. The water was cold, dark, with currents so strong they could tear of a face mask. In the labyrinthine caves it was easy to become disorientated. If the kids had any hope of survival, they were going to need help.
Just as in The Martian, experts gathered from around the world. Locals brought their cooking stoves to prepare meals for the hundreds of volunteers. Others brought their largest pumps to drop the water level. Experienced cave divers arrived. Much as the Thai SEALS were tough divers, cave diving is a specialised skill and they had to learn quickly. Perhaps that was one reason why one man (an ex-SEAL) died. Here in Australia the news has showcased the efforts of an Australian doctor and his buddy, a retired vet. Dr. Richard Harris, a very experienced cave diver, was specifically asked for by the British team leading the rescue efforts. Before they were taken out he assessed each boy and administered a sedative so he wouldn't panic, endangering himself and his rescuers. Dr Harris was last out of the cave and received high praise for his work. But the fact is people came from everywhere. It took hundreds to pump out the water, set up lights and guide ropes, and come up with a strategy for getting the kids out of there. In places the cave system was like an S bend in a toilet and each kid had to be maneuvered around it on a stretcher.
All the while the world watched, sharing the cheers as each kid emerged, daring to hope another one might make it out soon. Who needs the world cup? This was gripping and dangerous and it mattered.
Just like in The Martian.
When they stop their petty bickering and get on with it, Humans can achieve great things. There will be a movie and the writers won't have to add anything to the real story to make it more compelling.
This article gives a graphic description of the events in the Thai cave.