Thailand cave rescue
On Saturday 23 June, a Thai soccer team, consisting of 12 boys aged between 11-16 and their 25‑year old coach entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province of Thailand. The team were not seen for nine days. The cave system is complex and extends several kilometres into the mountain side. Ongoing heavy rainfall caused flooding within the cave system, making navigation and access extremely difficult.
A rescue operation led by the Royal Thai Army found the group on 2 July. Two British civilian professional cave divers, who were a part of the operation first found the boys beyond an area in the cave system known as "Pattaya Beach". Up to 1000 people from Army Special operations units, Navy Seals, various other Thai government rescue organisations, and international responders, including Australia, assisted the rescue effort.
The Thai-led evacuations of the group began on Sunday 8 July, with the second round taking place on Monday morning, 9 July. Four children were evacuated in each of these rounds of evacuations. The third and final round of evacuations was on Tuesday, 10 July, where divers evacuated the remaining four children and their coach. All of the children and their coach were successfully evacuated from the cave, and are currently recovering in Chiang Rai hospital.
On Thursday night, 5 July, a former Royal Thai Navy Seal, who volunteered to assist with the rescue effort, died whilst placing oxygen canisters in the cave complex – highlighting the dangers of this highly complex and risky rescue operation. Australia expresses its condolences to the family of the diver and to the Thai people.
Australian Government assistance
On Friday 29 June 2018, the Government of Thailand accepted Australia's offer of assistance, which included an AFP Specialist Response Group (SRG) team with specialist dive capabilities, who have experience in conducting searches in zero visibility areas, land search and rescue, and diving in flooded caves. The six AFP divers and their support team helped move food and water, first aid supplies and air tanks through the cave and also cleared debris, in support of Thai-led rescue efforts. They were also part of the evacuation effort that began on Sunday 8 July, accompanying the children along a section of the cave.
The Australian Government also deployed ADF specialists with skills and experience in disaster recovery, planning, civil‑military, and dive planning. One specialist, an Australian Navy Clearance Diver, supported the evacuation alongside the AFP divers. Members of DFAT's Crisis Response Team were also on site to assist the Australian team to coordinate with the Government of Thailand.
On Friday 6 June, following a request from the Government of Thailand, Dr Richard Harris, a member of the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) with extensive cave diving experience and his diving partner, Mr Craig Challen, arrived in Chiang Rai to support the rescue mission. Dr Harris and Mr Challen advised and supported the Royal Thai Navy and their medical personnel in the dive and rescue efforts, and worked alongside Thai Navy divers to assist and prepare the children prior to evacuation.
The number of Australians that assisted at the cave site varied depending on the rotations of individuals, but up to 20 were involved at the cave site.
Australia was proud to support the government and people of Thailand in this extraordinary effort.
Travel advice and consular assistance
Follow @AusHumanitarian on Twitter for more information about Australia's assistance.
Statement from Dr Richard Harris and Mr Craig Challen
We would like to thank everyone for the messages of support we have received following the successful extraction of the team and Royal Thai Navy Seals from the cave. The favourable outcome that has been achieved is almost beyond our imagination when we first became involved in this operation.
We are humbled to have been able to provide our expertise and experience to assist in this international operation led by the Thai government.
Our thanks and greatest admiration go the British lead divers, and support divers along the route in and out of the cave system from the EU, US, China and Australia, as well as the vast number of participants from military and civilian organisations in various support roles. Additionally, we were only a small part of an Australian contingent comprising personnel from DFAT, AFP, and ADF who performed valuable roles.
We particularly would like to thank the players and their coach for placing their trust in us. We wish them a speedy recovery.