KADENA AIR BASE, Japan — The two year anniversary of the Thai-led, multi-national operation to rescue the Wild Boar youth football team from Tham Luang cave park was remembered recently. The rescue happened July 8-10 2018 and involved a highly organized and synchronized effort involving critical coordination with multiple governments, international companies and foreign non-government agencies.
It’s believed the boys and coach set out into the cave on a team building exercise, something they had done before. With dry weather, the boys were able to hike back through the cave. But when it began to rain, the cave flooded. On June 24th reports of the boys missing began surfacing and their bikes were discovered by the mouth of the Tham Luang cave.
Soon after, the Royal Thai Army Special Forces Regiment and the Royal Thai Navy SEALs began search and rescue operations at the cave site. As news spread, the search drew the attention of local residents and international civilians looking to help in any way they can. With multiple lines of effort to determine the best way to enter the flooded cave and search for the boys, Thai Special Forces initiated patrols across the mountainside to find another way into the cave. It quickly became evident the massive size of the cave system the search area had to expand.
At the request of the Royal Thai government, the U.S., through U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, sent a search and rescue team from Okinawa, Japan to assist Thai rescue authorities in locating the team. Approximately 40 U.S. military personnel from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command including pararescuemen, a survival specialist and support personnel to include medical, communications and logistics, and U.S. Embassy Bangkok were brought on-site to assist with the rescue efforts.
During the initial phase of the operation, the U.S. military team accessed the environment and worked with Thai authorities and international search and rescue teams on the development of potential courses of action to locate the missing boys and coach. The combined rescue efforts included dive operations, land surveys with the Royal Thai Army, establishment of helicopter landing zones and high-angle rope operations in confined spaces.
Once the youth football team had been discovered alive, the U.S. military continued its support while in close coordination with Thai authorities and international search and rescue teams. Serving in an advise and assist capacity, the U.S. military team supported the development on potential courses of action for extraction and contributed to the logistical resupply effort with the donation of food and dive equipment.
The Thai Navy SEALs demonstrated incredible leadership by diving back to the boys and staying with them day-in and day-out throughout the 8-day rescue. Retired Thai Navy SEAL Suman Kunan voluntarily came to support his SEAL brethren and unfortunately died due to dive complications during the rescue. His passing underscored the risk these divers were willing to take to save the children and their coach.
The U.S. and Thailand, as longstanding allies and friends, have worked together to address challenges in both countries and around the world. The U.S. stands with our allies and partners during difficult times and we are committed to providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief throughout the world as requested. We constantly conduct multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises with our key allies, so when a disaster strikes we are better prepared to work together.