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Book Review: The Boys in the Cave

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Review of The Boys in the Cave: Deep inside the impossible rescue in Thailand (2018)

On the 23rd  June 2018 twelve members of the Thai Wild Boars youth football team, and their coach, strolled into the Tham Luang Cave in northern Thailand. Hours later they were trapped, over a mile inside the cave, by monsoon driven, rising flood water. Initial attempts to find the lost group were thwarted by the torrent of water rushing through the cave system. After ten days without contact, food and warm clothing, it was feared the group were dead from hypothermia or drowning.

Two experienced British cave rescue divers, Rick Stanton and John Vollanthen volunteered to swim against the current, through over a mile of pitch black, flooded tunnels, negotiate sumps and slither through crevices in an attempt to discover if they were alive or dead. They found them alive on a raised sand bank, over one and half miles into the cave system; thus started ‘one of the largest cave search and rescue operations in history.’ (p.93). However, their rescue was perilous. Josh Morris, the intermediary between the rescuers and the Thai political and military decision makers, announced: ‘You have two terrible choices… In one, everyone is going to die. And in the other, some people are going to die.’ (p188).

Twenty-five days later the boys and their coach emerged, cocooned on special stretchers. They were bound, sedated, in wet suits and breathing via positive pressure face masks. If, at any time, during the tortuous journey, in pitch blackness, the face masks had been dislodged the boy would drown.

We may recall that all thirteen of those trapped were rescued alive, but a Thai Navy SEAL drowned. However, this does not detract from the story of the rescue told and illustrated by Matt Gutman. He manages to capture the race against time drama as the strength of the boys, and oxygen levels in the cave fall to dangerous levels. Gutman describes the tension as water levels continue to rise and more monsoon rains approach. He also describes the toll on the rescue divers as cuts and scratches, grazes and blisters become infected and sheer exhaustion starts to overtake them. The story is enhanced by maps of the cave system and the forty-nine colour photographs; they convey the enormity of the rescue.

A noteworthy feature of The Boys in the Cave is that Matt Gutman does not shy away from describing the bizarre and chaotic attempts at rescue by well meaning people who didn’t know what they were doing. He records the politically driven, bureaucratic public announcements that were at odds with reality. He also acknowledges the rivalries, antagonism and emotional involvement of those present. It was a testing time for all – especially when failure was the most likely outcome.

You do not have to be a diver, let alone a cave diver, to appreciate the challenges that the volunteer rescue divers undertook. Exhausting eight to ten hour swims, in pitch darkness, through a tangled web of lines and tubes, ropes and electrical cable that are waiting to snag you. It was a booby-trapped labyrinth in which you could becoming jammed in a choke point, lose the line and get lost, running out of air or be caught up in a flash flood. It was a heroic endeavour and one I’m sure you will enjoy reading.


The Boys in the Cave: Deep inside the impossible rescue in Thailand (2018)

  • Author: Matt Guttman
  • Publisher: New York: Harper Collins
  • 307pp
  • ISBN 978 006 29099 23

Matt Gutman was part of the international news team that reported on the rescue. He was born in Princeton, New Jersey, USA on 5th December 1977 and graduated from Williams College in 2000. As a reporter he has worked for the Jerusalem Post, USA Today and ABC News Radio. He is currently the Chief National Correspondent for ABC News in America. The Boys in the Cave is his first book.


Find out more about the reviewer, Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

Dr Fred Lockwood is Emeritus Professor of Learning and Teaching, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. He is also a PADI Master Scuba Diver and dived in the waters of Central America and Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands. Follow Fred at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

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The BiG Scuba Podcast Episode 180: Dawn Kernagis

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Dawn Kernagis

Gemma and Ian chat to Dawn Kernagis.  Dawn joined DEEP in 2023 as the Director of Scientific Research.   DEEP is an ocean technology and exploration company with a mission to ‘Make Humans Aquatic.’ DEEP’s undersea habitat and submersible systems, combined with multi-phased diver and human performance training, will create the next evolution of subsea science, research, and exploration capabilities.   Dawn is a NASA-trained NEEMO Aquanaut, Explorer’s Club Fellow and Women Divers Hall of Fame Inductee and who is also tasked to establish DEEP’s first US presence in North Carolina.   Dawn has also been a diver with numerous underwater exploration, research, and conservation projects since 1993, including the mapping and record-setting exploration of some of the deepest underwater caves in the world.

https://www.deep.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/dawn-kernagis-995383152/

The BiG Scuba Podcast is brought to you by Narked at 90.   “Beyond Technical”   Narked at 90    If you are thinking of moving across to tech diving or completely new to diving, Narked at 90 can advise and guide on the best equipment and set up for your personal or commercial requirements  https://www.narkedat90.com/.  There is currently a code for you to use for purchases and the code is  BIGSCUBA2024.

If you are interested in the INSTA360 action camera we discussed then please click this link:   https://www.insta360.com/sal/x3?utm_term=INRAI8S

We hope you have enjoyed this episode of The BiG Scuba Podcast.  Please give us ★★★★★, leave a review, and tell your friends.   Contact Gemma and Ian with your messages, ideas and feedback via The BiG Scuba Bat Phone    +44 7810 005924   or use our social media platforms.   To keep up to date with the latest news, follow us:

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🎧You can listen to the BiG Scuba Podcast on all major podcast platforms including …. iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify and Stitcher 😀.  ISSN Number 2752-6127

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The BiG Scuba Podcast Episode 173: DEEP – Making Humans Aquatic

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Gemma and Ian visited DEEP and were hosted by Phil Short, Research Diving, Training Lead, and were given a tour of the facility at Avonmouth and then over to the Campus at Tidenham.

DEEP is evolving how humans access, explore and inhabit underwater environments. Through flexible, modular and mobile subsea habitats that allow humans to live undersea up to 200m for up to 28 days, work-class submarines, and advanced human performance research, DEEP completely transforms what we are capable of underwater and how we conduct undersea science and research.

www.deep.com

You can listen to Episode 173 of the BiG Scuba Podcast here.

We hope you have enjoyed this episode of The BiG Scuba Podcast.  Please give us ★★★★★, leave a review, and tell your friends about us as each share and like makes a difference.   Contact Gemma and Ian with your messages, ideas and feedback via The BiG Scuba Bat Phone    +44 7810 005924   or use our social media platforms.   To keep up to date with the latest news, follow us:

We are on Instagram                     @thebigscuba

We are on Facebook                      @thebigscuba

We are in LinkedIn                          https://www.linkedin.com/in/ian%F0%9F%A6%88-last-325b101b7/

The BiG Scuba Website                  www.thebigscuba.com

Amazon Store :                                https://www.amazon.co.uk/shop/thebigscuba

Visit   https://www.patreon.com/thebigscubapodcast and subscribe – Super quick and easy to do and it makes a massive difference. Thank you.

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