Erik and Ivan run dive shops a few beach bars away from each other on Koh Tao, an island renowned for two primary tourist occupations: diving and drunkenness. Ivan is a Danish hippie with a brush cut; Erik is a long-haired surfer who was forced to retire from surfing when he busted his shoulder—he is no hippie. Ivan went to Thailand on vacation a couple of decades ago and never went home. Erik is broad-built with long hair and a serious face. Neither man makes millions teaching tourists to dive, but neither thinks twice about buying plane tickets to reach the cave.
Claus knows he and his fellow Europeans can support the rescue mission. He just needs to convince the Brits. He meets with representatives of the British team and American Special Forces to talk rescue options. All the options are bad. One is slightly less bad. Assume there is a chimney in the mountaintop leading to the kids and their coach. Find it, somehow. Pull the team out, somehow. Option two: Assume there is no chimney. Make one. Drill through the rock— m. Pull the team out— m. Option three: Leave the kids and their coach in the cave.
In the dark.
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For four months. Send in food, letters and medical support. Wait for the rain to stop. Bring the team out the way they came in. Option four: Do what no one has ever done before. Bring a dozen children and one adult, none of whom know how to dive or probably even swim, through a few kilometres of flooded cave in almost zero visibility and torrid currents.
Option one is unrealistic: the kids are probably hallucinating about the roosters. Option two is deadly: drilling could crush the children under falling rocks. And option four is madness. No one has ever tried anything like it before. Divers might die. Tonight, the men choose madness. They want to dive the kids out. The Brits will select the foreign support divers they lead. The Europeans plus one Canadian at the cave are on the team.
Chris, a computer programmer from Cheddar, England, is sure of most things, none more so than himself. Most men avoid tight spaces, steep climbs and the dark. He dives in on a supply run with another Brit, Jason Mallinson; Jason makes the decision for both of them. When Chris surfaces metres from the team, Jason is already walking up the bank. The boys are making fools of the men, he notes. Claus bows his head before a shrine outside the cave. Caves are sacred in Thailand. The curves of her reclining figure stretch across the rounded mountaintops, holding the children deep inside her caverns.
The Europeans have permission from Thai officials to enter the mouth of the cave now. One will be repelled almost as soon as he enters. Inside, wires and cables drift like seaweed in the dark water. Installed in haste after the boys disappeared, divers are cleaning them up to bring the children—or their bodies—through. Claus is cutting telephone cable wrapped around the main line when he feels a German diver coming up behind him.
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No problem. The cable tightens around his fingers. The German must have passed him in the dark and pulled the cord along with him. Claus starts swimming madly. The German has the cable tangled around himself. When Claus reaches him, the German has stopped. Claus can hear him breathing. A bad sign. Is he okay? Yes, the German is okay.
By the time they make their way out, they pass a Thai team going in. Maybe his air ran out. Maybe he panicked. Divers from around Thailand are descending on the wreck to pull bodies out of the water. The European divers feel sick for their friends. The mission needs more men: some to support the men who are there; some to replace the men who will fall sick or quit or die; and one man who has no replacement.
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In addition to putting out a wider call for support, the Brits ask Australian Dr. Everyone wants him there for three reasons. First, Dr. Second, Dr. Harry is an anaesthesiologist: he specializes in keeping people safe and comfortable in critical situations such as surgery—or, somewhat less commonly, subterranean underwater retrievals. And third: people love him. They just do. Even people who have never met him love him.
Just to have met Dr. Few in this world possess any one of these qualities. Maybe only Dr. Harry has all three. One overzealous police officer, one photo of a diver in handcuffs, and the mission looks bad. But the mission might need another man. The team might need him to be that man. He goes to the cave. He pulls up a chair outside. He sits and he waits. He does not know he is waiting to be replaced.
In a little village in Ireland lives an elfin man named Jim. He lives in Ireland but was born in Belgium. He caves more but dived first. He used to work in dive shops as an instructor but now works in a factory as an electrician. He came to know the Brits better when his friend Artur Kozlowski disappeared during a dive seven years ago.
The first day, Jim found nothing.
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The second day, he called the British Cave Rescue Council. Rick, John and Jason answered. He wanted to help his friend and needed other men to help him. He thinks about the long cave and the children stranded at the back of it. But also he thinks about the small crew and the men who helped him recover his friend. Jim sends the Brits a Facebook message. She walks upstairs. By the time she comes down, Jim is on the phone with his boss, getting time off from the factory. Chris has told him to pack his bags.
John Shmidt. An Aussie TV reporter took pity on me, pointing me to a blue tent overflowing with donated rain boots and plastic ponchos, but I was worried about the foreign volunteer I had met on the plane, that he might get hurt in the cave. No one could point me in his direction. Not just a coach: a former monk. After practice, he would occasionally take some of the boys to a nearby temple. At the edge of that temple stands a cave, much smaller than Tham Luang.
The monk would light a candle with the boys, they would slip inside the mouth of this cave, and they would pray. Word had slipped out, locals said, that after they got stuck in Tham Luang, the monk kept the children alive by teaching them to meditate. Parents offered the monk thanks, not forgiveness. While men furiously pumped out water, placed air tanks and carried lights, the monk was instructing 12 young boys that they had a job, too. They had to breathe. The day before the rescue, everything is ready.
Several options have been duly considered and politely dismissed. No: their faces will be covered by full-face masks and their bodies dragged underwater. Separately, in minute intervals, four lead divers will each take a child through two kilometres of watery passageways and treacherous boulders with only their hands to guide them along a single thread, before delivering them to Station 3—call it Grand Central—where teams of medical support will await to hurry them through the rest of the cave, pumped mostly dry.
The terrain the divers will traverse will be dotted with four manned diving stations, banks of land in air chambers equipped with air and oxygen tanks, with only a couple of support divers at each. These support divers, with only their dive buddy, will wait to offer assistance to each lead diver bringing a child through. Most support divers will be European; all lead divers will be British. At least that is the plan. Onward to the drills. First, the pool drills.
Little boys plucked from a local school shiver in a nearby pool, testing the smallest full-face masks sourced from around the world. Divers practice hauling the boys face-down through the water to see if the masks leak. Unlike the more common half-masks, with which a diver uses a regulator mouthpiece to breathe, full-face masks use pressure to push air out, making it more difficult for water to seep in. Full-face masks must be sealed airtight, though—if water were to seep in through a too-large mask, the mask would flood and the child could drown.
These masks may not be small enough. But onward. Next, the rock drill. Like a special forces team drawing lines in the sand with rocks and branches to map out an attack, the divers walk through a miniature mock-up cave in a parking lot. Police tape wrapped around sticks signifies the route along the main guide line the divers will follow out of the cave. Plastic half-litre water bottles wrapped with different colours of tape signify people and tanks: red for the children and the coach, blue for air tanks for the divers, green for oxygen tanks for the children. If something goes wrong, it will be easier to revive someone who has been breathing pure oxygen.
Thirteen red bottles are placed near the stick marking the spot where the soccer team has been stranded for two weeks. It begins: Is Station 6 that bit of mud or that bit of mud?
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Do we need more tanks here and fewer there? Fewer here and more there? This is the only time divers see the cave in anything approximating light. Still, onward. Heather Endall. Anaesthesiology requires more training than most branches of medicine; there is always some risk that when a patient is put under, he or she will never wake up. When the patient is a child, the risks are greater. When the child is yanked along underwater for hours through a dark, cold cave, the risks are incalculable—no one has ever done anything like this before.
Harry believes the risks of sedating the children beat the risks of not sedating the children. The lead divers believe the same, and the Thais believe the experts know best. The children cannot dive; the children will panic; the children will drown their rescuers and themselves.
That is why Dr. Harry is going to do this: inject 12 kids with a sedative so powerful it will knock them out cold. Ketamine: a horse tranquilizer, an operating-room drug, a soon-to-be cave-rescue pharmaceutical product in its early testing stages on rock-entombed human minors. If only it were so simple. Harry cannot dive every child out himself, but the divers are not medical doctors.
Harry must give a dozen cave hobbyists and small-business owners a crash course in do-it-yourself anaesthesiology. If anyone dies—and many divers think they will be lucky to save two or three of the kids—Dr. Harry will bear much of the burden. He is not licensed to practice medicine in Thailand, let alone teach other foreigners to practice. Cave divers are solitary creatures, Dr.
Harry will later say to the cameras he normally avoids. And as he instructs laymen how to sedate a bunch of boys in the dark before dragging them through a flooded, stalactite-strewn tunnel, Dr.
Harry is very alone. He thinks the drugs might help some children survive. But you never know. The sedation drill. One last water bottle is put to use. Harry holds it up. With his other hand, he raises a needle in the air. Is everyone listening? Harry demonstrates, and stabs the needle into the bottle. Just get the needle into muscle. Far, but not too far—not into bone. Inject the child with the drugs.
Then: onward. The pool drill, the rock drill, the sedation drill. Everything is done. Today, the mission begins. Either four boys will be rescued or their bodies will be recovered; the bodies of divers may be recovered, too. Jim, the Belgian elf from Ireland, has been called in so late that when he arrives at the site, the other Brits are suited up and coming out of the changing room beside the cave. He enters the cave. There are pumps, electrical cables, pipes, lights, food, Wi-Fi, legions of people. Some guys watch the World Cup nearby.
Load me up! Hee haw! They will be the last support divers in the chain. Two Brits are waiting to tell Jim and Connor what to expect before they get in the water. This is the first Jim has heard of drugs. The other divers have begun the long dive to their own stations. Jim can turn back, but the mission will press on. Far beyond him, on another bank deep inside the cave, Dr. There, just a little pinch A few kilometres closer to the light, Jim tells himself he only has to do what he tries to do whenever he enters a cave: something no man has done before.
The search for something new is always the same. This is the deepest in the cave they have been. Is their station a dry area or a wet area? Is it a rock or another rock? Wherever it is, their station is near a large section of land that will require carrying the boys over slippery boulders while the water rises and falls, wrapped in a cloth stretcher called a sked. Skeds are usually used to carry casualties off the battlefield. On their way to Station 6, Erik has lost Ivan; Ivan has lost the line.
Ivan was supposed to dive ahead of Erik after Grand Central Station 3. Ivan goes too far from the line—in the black, Erik passes him. He dives back in and continues. When Ivan surfaces, he assumes Erik must be taking his time. He dives back in; surfaces again; again, no Erik. He sits on a bank and he waits. Aside from exploration, what Ivan loves most about cave diving is the meditating. Underwater in the dark, there is only your hand on or near the line. This is how you keep calm: hand, hand, hand. As Ivan sits in silence, the silence lasts for 20 minutes, maybe more.
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His thoughts take control. Ivan hears a cell phone. There is no cell reception in the cave. He understands now how the children thought they heard roosters. He dives back in and puts his hand on the line. Eventually, Ivan and Erik find each other at Station 6, a long stretch of very steep bank they must haul tanks up and down when lead divers need replacements. Ivan is not too late for the mission, but he is too late for Erik. Any later, a lead diver might have shown up with a child needing help only to find that the help had f--ked off. Jim and Connor, too, are lost on their way to Station 5.
Jim has dived in from Grand Central Station 3 ahead of Connor and found the line snaking down and up into a pocket of air, suspended in a crack in the cave wall. He tells Connor to go back and look. Connor goes back and looks. They find the right line and get themselves to Station 5, the last manned station before the lead diver has to deliver his boy to the bustling Grand Central Station 3 where medical support awaits. And they wait. Finally, all have found their places. There they are: a dozen men from all over the world positioned in air chambers along a couple of kilometres of cave.
Harry, preparing his syringe. These men have different skill levels and backgrounds and reputations, and today they will perform different roles in a rescue operation of a kind humanity has never seen, but they are the same. They live to be first to put their name on a bit of line, to make that line their own, to take that line farther than the last man, who had to tie off his line when he reached his limit.
They believe the impossible is a hallucination to be overcome. They look for first sightings in the dark. They breathe underwater. But they know that the impossible might remain impossible today. They only think it is better to try. The rain is coming. The children are tiring. The world is watching. They may have no chance against impossible odds, but if they do, it is here. This is how it begins: on the bank where the soccer team is stranded, Dr. Harry takes one of the children away from the rest. He tells the boy he is a good boy, a brave boy, the best boy.
He pulls out the needle. Then he pushes it in. Once the child is unconscious, his mask is strapped on and his head is submerged and sloshed around. As for air, he follows the rule of thirds: a third of the total air supply to go in, a third to come out and a third for something to go very wrong. Jason has emerged from the water with a child and is yelling at Claus and Mikko, who are waiting on a small rock at what they have decided must be Station 7. Jason thought they were supposed to wait on another rock. Claus has to move. Claus swims closer to Jason, leaving Mikko behind.
For the rest of the day, Claus and Craig will race back and forth across m of boulders, hauling children in stretchers that in this cave, in this dark, they sometimes drop. Ivan makes out a figure in the water. The body of a child is being dragged along by Jason. If he had to guess, he might say it was dead. He knows to look for air bubbles. For the next couple of hours, that is their first job: spot air bubbles. And, finally, there they are, that very first time: the child is breathing. Now the real work begins. One man scrambles up the steep embankment to grab replacement tanks, the other gives the diver a break by swimming the child along.
The men send the bubbles on their way. Jim waits. He spends his first minutes at Station 5 with his station-mate, Connor, listening to cave walls echo with the sounds of air bubbles from far away. The bubbles trickle through caverns, surfacing in places more distant than they sound. Again, again and again, he thinks a child is appearing, but the water is still. Air bubbles! Real ones this time. The bubbles are coming from one person swimming, and another, smaller, motionless body being dragged through the water by the first. Jason surfaces. Jim jumps up. What does he need?
Jim will give him anything he needs. Then John surfaces. Bubbles are coming from his boy. John says Jim can help him push the boy along, but John has enough energy to carry on a conversation as well as carry the boy. He is talking to the unconscious boy. Is John going crazy? Caves make people crazy; cave divers are crazy.
When Chris surfaces, Jim thinks he can make himself more useful. Chris signals he could use a hand pulling the kid through the water. Jim can barely hold on as Chris hauls the child through the dark and Jim along with them. Rick is the last man through: bubbles come from his boy, too, travelling the entire length of the bank. Everyone is through.
Jim and Connor hang around, bringing up the rear as the rest of the support divers pass through, taking an inventory of all the equipment. They find a mountain of tanks right around where Saman died. But when Dr. The last boy out had a lung infection. Harry had dived closely behind Rick through the m to Pattaya Beach, staying near the sick boy, and needed to spoon with him on the beach while keeping his airway open.
Harry needs to know: how were all the children when Jim saw them last? In the space of a few hours, a handful of scuba bums and cave nuts have become a band of world-famous heroes. The Brits return to their hotel and the Europeans-plus-one-Canadian to theirs. Separately, each team talks about the rescue movies already in production. As Thailand offers thanks to Buddha, the dive teams debrief over beers. They will do it all over again tomorrow. The country has its religion; the foreign divers have theirs. It's the story of just reward for a singer who originally took country music by storm and helped keep it true to its roots back in the early '80's.
In his autobiography, A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck, Adkins recounted his rise to fame, brushes with death, and battles with personal demons. Adkins has also acted in multiple films and television shows, playing a tough-as-nails biker in The Lincoln Lawyer starring Matthew McConaughey , a desperate father in Deepwater Horizon starring Mark Wahlberg and a wise oracle of a tattoo artist in the family friendly film Moms' Night Out starring Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin, Sarah Drew.
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