EDITORIAL: In Chiang Rai, many reasons for awe

CHINAG RAI, Thailand (The Nation/ANN) - The divers, the planners and the multitude of volunteers are seeing us all through this crisis.

Elite divers guided four of the 13 Wild Boars football team members out of flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai on Sunday, bringing the country further relief in the weeks-long 
crisis and spurring hope among observers around the world that the remaining nine were on their way out.

The rescue mission was days in the planning and involved tricky dives through narrow passageways, in and out of the muddy water that had for so long blocked the escape route of the 12 youngsters and their team’s assistant coach. Numerous strategies were discussed in the week leading up to what was finally dubbed “D-Day”, with forecasts of imminent rain finally forcing acceptance of the quickest alternative, no matter how risky it still seemed – diving the boys out, each escorted by a brace of seasoned experts.

The identities of the four members of the football team extracted from the cave on Sunday were not made known, but Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said they were “strong and safe” and under the watchful care of medical personnel. 

One diver, a former Navy Seal, lost his life during the operation, running out of oxygen while transporting supplies to the stranded group. The tragedy underscored the danger of the mission and the scale of what was being asked of the youths with poor swimming skills and no diving skills at all. Retired Petty Officer Saman Gunan was among the divers both foreign and local who have shown us what courage truly entails.

The young boys and their coach spent nine days unaccounted for inside the limestone cavern before veteran British cave divers found them huddled on a muddy sandbank above the waterline. It was a moment for rejoicing, but it was obvious that dire challenges still lay ahead.

While much of the news coverage has focused on the divers and the difficulties they face, the contributions of scores of volunteers playing supporting roles cannot be overlooked. Among them are people laundering and mending the uniforms of officials toiling around the clock in a wet and muddy environment. There are motorcyclists transporting people to and from the site free of charge, a boon to those not allowed to bring their own vehicles anywhere close. And there is the battalion of cooks, including Muslims who are making sure the rescue workers of their own faith – about 100 people in all – have halal food to eat.

Thus we see a crisis being overcome by people of many nationalities, many ethnic backgrounds and many religions, and the sight is nothing less than heart-warming. Even those of us watching the effort from afar and sharing a feeling of helplessness might feel in some small way involved.

Their every move is witnessed, commented on, adds to the sense of wonder. They surely know we’re rooting for them, are in awe of their generosity of spirit, their capabilities and achievements. 

The entire operation has been a marvel to observe – members of the international community working in unison against dangerous odds, the kind of scene that only unfolds in the most pressing times. It is a phenomenon with a lesson to share: one of strength in unity. This is a drama that will long be remembered, and for many the drama of a lifetime.

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