Thais are grateful for foreign help in cave rescue mission

From the formal levels of foreign policy to the familiar bonds of people-to-people relationships, Thailand has always sought to build friendships with all nations and peoples. Now those friendships are being rewarded as foreigners from four continents have volunteered in the effort to rescue 12 young Thai boys and their soccer coach trapped deep inside a cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

And the people of Thailand, from the pinnacle of society to the man in the street, are expressing their gratitude.

His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn thanked the “experts from abroad who traveled great distances” and foreign media for their help in the mission to save the boys.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was also effusive in his praise when news broke that a British cave diver had found the boys alive nine days after they were trapped more than a mile underground by floodwaters. “Everybody is a hero. Thank you all Thais, and thank you all foreigners,’’ he said.

Of the 90 divers participating in the mission, 50 are foreigners and 40 are Thais, said Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn. When the first four boys were led out of the cave Sunday evening, their rescuers were 13 foreign and five Thai divers. Taking part in the overall effort are divers and support personnel from Australia, China, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“All the Thai people are glad and grateful that many friendly countries provide assistance to help the boys,’’ said Somlak Songsamphant, a retired civil servant watching the news coverage with friends in a café in Bangkok.

The United States sent a team of military personnel from the U.S. Pacific Command, including survival specialists and sonar technicians. “This is a unique problem that’s bringing people together. All of Thailand is here, bringing their hearts and their passions to solving this. Everyone is doing the best they can, given the situation,” said Jessica Tait, a spokesperson for the U.S. military.

“We’ve got a job to do,” said British diver John Volanthen as he entered the dark mouth of the cave complex on Sunday to help bring out the first batch of boys in an operation that took eight grueling hours. Two other British cave divers, Robert Charlie Harper and Richard William Stanton, were part of the team.

As was Australian anesthetist Richard Harris, one the world’s most accomplished divers with a medical background, who canceled his vacation when he heard help was needed in Thailand, and performed triage on the boys inside the cave.

Israel, aside from sending a volunteer diver, provided the technology that allowed the divers and the boys to communicate with the command center and relatives above ground. Private-sector specialists from China and Japan were also participating in the effort, according to TIME magazine.

“Whoever offers help, knowledge, technology, equipment, we gratefully accept,” said Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak.

And for some, the effort in Thailand is serving as a hopeful model for how to deal with many other difficulties facing the world today.

“It is great to see this (international) cooperation,’’ said German paramedic Nick Vollmar. “If we would cooperate globally in every aspect like we do here almost all of our problems would be solved.”

Eight boys have been brought out of the cave so far and the final batch will be for the other four boys and their soccer coach.