I wept. At 6 o’clock this morning on the patio outside my daughter’s house in France, just east of Geneva, I wept, alone and unashamedly. In the coolness that followed the overnight thunderstorm, nursing an early-morning espresso, with just the dawn chorus breaking through the stillness, I opened the BBC website, saw the news headlines, and wept with relief. “Thailand cave rescue: boys found alive after nine days”. The headline said it all. After nine days, the twelve young footballers, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach had finally been located on a ledge, alive, hungry, but seemingly in good spirits. I empathised with the boys and their coach as they saw the headlamps of the two cave-rescue divers surfacing beneath them. The emotion the group must have felt is indescribable. I empathised also with the divers who first broke through the long and twisting tunnel to the underground area known as Pattaya Beach deep inside the Tham Luang caves in northern Thailand. What must they have experienced when, first, they realised they had found the missing group and, second, that they were all still alive? “How many of you?” they asked. “Thirteen,” came the reply. “Thirteen? Brilliant!” replied the divers. But, mostly, I empathised with the relief of the family members – parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters – gathered at the entrance to the cave waiting for news, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. I am both a parent and a grandparent and I would have hated going through what those gathered families must have gone through since June 23rd when the boys went missing.
I am reminded of the 17-day search for the 33 miners trapped by a rockfall in the Chilean Copiapo copper-gold mine in 2010. It took a further 52 days before the miners were finally hauled to the surface, one at a time, watched by over one billion people worldwide. We collectively cheered as they came to the surface in the specially constructed rescue pod and, no doubt, we will do the same when the youngsters finally emerge. But the Tham Luang group is different. These are not seasoned miners, aware of the dangers of their work and trained in what to do when rockfalls, or other underground accidents, happen. These are young boys, not trained in caving techniques, not swimmers or divers, trapped in darkness with very little in the way of survival gear or expertise and no knowledge of what will happen to the water lapping at their ledge – will it rise, will it fall, and when? That they have survived nine days is, in itself, remarkable and speaks volumes of the resilience of the human body and mind.
The rescue will be tricky and may take weeks, even months. The monsoon season is about to start which may cause further rises in the water level. Their situation is precarious but… I have every faith that a successful rescue will be effected eventually and the boys will be reunited with those who love them. I have often said I never understood the national and international outpouring of grief when Princess Diana died in a Paris underpass in 1997, and I still don’t understand, but I will probably weep again when I see those boys emerging from the tunnel.
Let us hope it will be very soon.