It started as a fun after-practice excursion. On June 23, 2018, Ekkapol Chantawong, a 25-year-old Thai youth soccer coach, takes his team, the Wild Boars, to explore a cave he’d visited before, intending to stay just about an hour. But when monsoon rains hit while they’re underground and the cave’s entrance floods, the coach and his 12 players, ages 11-16, become trapped. The team would remain stuck underground for more than two weeks, in what became a global media sensation.
The adventure in the large Tham Luang cave network was to be a quick one. The team brought only a rope, flashlight and some batteries—no extra water or food.
“When we went in and got stuck in the cave, at that moment, we saw water. It’s full of water,” the coach later told ABC News. “I then volunteered to dive to find out if I could go through or not. If I could go through then everybody is saved. So, we used the rope that we brought with us.”
Unable to escape, the boys pulled their coach back in and weeks passed before they were discovered and reached by rescuers. Starving and quickly running out of oxygen, the team survived by drinking fresh water that dripped from a cave stalactite and repeated the mantra “su su”—Thai for “keep fighting”—to remain calm.
The boys’ search and rescue stole the global spotlight, as an international group of cave diving experts, led by the Thai Navy Seals, raced to evacuate them. British divers discovered the group about 2.5 miles inside the cave on July 2, 2018. In an extremely dangerous effort, all the boys and the coach were rescued between July 8-10. A volunteer diver and former Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, died July 6, when he ran out of oxygen underwater while attempting to deliver oxygen tanks to the boys.