The bowels of Tham Luang cave are described as being pitch-black with near-zero visibility. As an international team of experts race against time to rescue the remaining four footballers and their coach trapped inside the labyrinthine cavern for more than two weeks, the dark place seems to shine with the light of hope and faith in humanity.
As the world rejoiced at the news that eight boys had been helped out of the cave safely as of press time, our thoughts and prayers return to former Navy Seal Saman Kunan, who died while transporting air tanks into the cave to be used by divers extracting the trapped boys.
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.
A champion trail runner, Petty Officer 1st Class Saman, 38, volunteered for the cave rescue operation. He did not have to do it as he resigned from the navy a while ago. Still, he joined the mission because he wished he could help “bring the kids home” as he was heard saying in a video clip before boarding the plane to Chiang Rai.
The air tanks that the ex-Navy Seal helped lay down apparently gave another breath to rescue divers and probably the boys as they went through the long and narrow escape route on Sunday. His effort and sacrifice are a reminder that compassion does exist, the kind that makes people willing to go through danger to help even those they have never met.
It’s probably this sense of pure humanity that has defined the search-and-rescue mission at Tham Luang and captivated not just people in Thailand but all across the world.
It does not matter that some of these young footballers are stateless minorities. No prime ministers, billionaires or inventors would have cared about them under normal circumstances. Trapped deep inside a flooded cave, their plight and ability to stay alive for over 10 days under dire conditions before they were found by two British cavers has touched people from US President Donald Trump to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Also gathering at the cave site are doctors, geological surveyors, satellite image sensing professionals and drilling experts looking for cracks in the mountain that may lead them to the ledge where the boys have been trapped.
It’s no exaggeration to say the rescue mission’s success so far is due to foreign divers and cavers, some of whom are described as being among the best in the world. Their expertise, and apparent calm in the face of such a daunting, dangerous mission, is a marvel in itself but their willingness to extend their help without publicity makes it even more impressive.
All Thais would agree that we can’t thank them enough for their selfless assistance.
It is this spirit of humanism, an attempt by people from different races to give their best, to join hands and brave treacherous terrain even when hope seems so little, that has made all eyes around the world fix on this remote cave in northern Thailand.
As each of the boys emerges, it’s not just their survival that people are celebrating but a renewal of their own faith, faith in the goodness of the human heart and generosity that extends beyond race, religion or social background.
As people race against time to help the boys and their coach out of the dark depths, the world prays for them as they see that goodwill has survived.
For a few weeks the world has seen what humans can do when they put their heads and hearts together. In the face of death, we have witnessed the braveness and willingness to put one’s life in the service of others not just by trained professionals but by ordinary people.
We saw bird’s nest gatherers skilled in rock climbing going all the way from the South to help explore crevices and cavities that could give a break in the mission. We saw a woman who said that even though she couldn’t dive or climb, she wanted to help by doing the military men’s laundry. We saw groundwater drillers covered in mud as they kept water pumps going in hope of lowering water levels inside the cave.
The rescue operation is certainly not without blemish. It’s a shame that local members of the media have been so berated. Many of us were accused of transgressing on decency in exchange for speedy reporting -- asking volunteers to take photos in forbidden areas, eavesdropping on radios for information, or revealing the identity of the four boys.
Thai media have also been criticised for focusing too heavily on "human dramas" instead of offering fact-based journalism to help people understand the situation.
The media must take these criticisms into account as the operation continues. Our hopes and prayers are there, too.