Recently, the entire world was captivated by 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach trapped deep inside one of Thailand’s dangerous caves. The risky mission claimed the life of Saman Gunan, a volunteer, and a former Navy SEAL diver who, while carrying air tanks, ran out of oxygen and died underwater. (6)

cave rescue
Volunteers Removing Flooded Water (5)

It soon became a global effort with the Thai Navy SEALS, cave divers, medics, volunteers, and multiple scientists from all over the world joining together. After eighteen grueling days and nothing short of a miracle, the entire team and coach were brought to safety (6). While the victims recover in a local hospital, we are left with one question: How and why did such a horrific event occur?

To give you an idea of the conditions faced by the boys, here are the odds that were stacked against them (1).

  • All wearing soccer uniforms in unpredictable, chilly temperatures
  • Barely teenagers, ranging in age from 11-16
  • Left for nearly ten days without food
  • Drinking drops of water from the cracks in the cave
  • Unable to move in the dark
  • Growing extremely unsure of a rescue

Thankfully, through the magic of modern networking and science, the world was able to organize and execute a plan to get them out. Oxygen was pumped into the cave, water was taken out, practice drills occurred, and experienced divers designed a path to get to the boys. The rescue team had to travel over 2.5 miles through tiny openings with barely any visibility (2). This 11-hour round trip had to happen several times to get out all the boys, most of who were unable to swim and extremely weak at this point. (2) Only in a time like now would something of this magnitude even be possible.

So why did they get trapped in the first place? The Tham Luang cave is 6 miles long and located on the side of a vast mountain range (1). The slightly acidic (pH: 5.6) rain that falls onto the limestone cave reacts and dissolves the cave, forming calcium and bicarbonate (3).

CaCO3 + H2CO3 = Ca+2 + 2HCO3

cave
Rescue Process Within the Cave (4)

Now, during the monsoon season, this reaction creates paths within the cave and floods the channels, which is why the team was trapped in water (3). However, it also provided needed oxygen to the boys. While this wasn’t nearly enough to last for 18 days, it was life-saving until the rescue was possible. Drones, cameras, drilling teams, technicians, and geologists were heavily used during these 18 days to find safe paths into the cave. The power of science and technology made it possible for this team to be brought to safety.


References:

[1]  Wells, Jamie. “Modern Scientific Advance Best Shot At Success For Boys Trapped In Thai Cave.” 40 Years Ago, GMO Insulin Was Controversial Also | American Council on Science and Health, 2018, http://www.acsh.org/news/2018/07/05/modern-scientific-advance-best-shot-success-boys-trapped-thai-cave-13160.

[2]  Bressan, David. “Why Hydrogeology Plays Such An Important Role In The Thailand Cave Rescue Operations.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 July 2018, http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2018/07/08/why-hydrogeology-plays-such-an-important-role-in-the-thailand-cave-rescue-operation/.

[3]  Nace, Trevor. “Thailand Cave Rescue: The Science Behind Thailand’s Unstable Caves.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 July 2018, http://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/07/09/thailand-cave-rescue-the-science-behind-thailands-unstable-caves/.

[4]  Monday, July 09, 2018 – 03:57 PM. “Latest: Eight Boys Brought out of Thai Cave amid Daring Rescue Operation.” Irish Examiner, 9 July 2018, http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/world/latest-seven-boys-now-rescued-from-thai-cave-853883.html.

[5] Ap. “Thailand Cave Rescue: Officials Clear Media as Cave Rescue Seems Imminent.” The Indian Express, Thursday, May 03, 2018, 8 July 2018, indianexpress.com/article/world/thailand-cave-rescue-officials-clear-media-as-cave-rescue-seems-imminent-5250504/.

[6] CBS/AP. “Thai Cave Rescue: Soccer Team All out of Cave — Live Updates.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 10 July 2018, http://www.cbsnews.com/live-news/thai-cave-rescue-soccer-team-all-out-of-cave-in-thailand-2018-07-10-live-updates/.

Hi! My name is Sindhuja Uppuluri and I'm a junior from Austin, Texas. I'm passionate about medicine, but high school has allowed me to discover the power of scientific breakthroughs as well. Being an ISEF alum, I have had the opportunity to not only expand on my own discoveries but be exposed to an ever-expanding network of young innovators and scientists. When I’m not in a lab, you can find me at a debate tournament, working on one of many clubs at my school, or drinking copious amounts of coffee. I can’t wait to use this platform to contribute exciting and informative content to you all!

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