Thirteen Lives: the story behind Thailand’s heart-stopping flooded cave rescue

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Four years ago today (July 10) the people of Thailand and its friends around the world gave a simultaneous sigh and burst into rip-roaring cheers as news from the country’s north flashed across the kingdom and the globe that the rescue of 13 members of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) Academy, a Thailand junior football team, from a flooded cave was complete, with no fatalities.

The rescue brought to an end a dramatic 18-days which saw more than 10,000 people from the farthest corners of the kingdom, together with specialist rescue divers from around the world, converge on the previously little-known caves close to Thailand’s border with Myanmar. Its successful conclusion saw a new chapter written in the annals of cave rescue history, in the process becoming a beacon of hope for others who venture underground and who might one day themself become trapped.

Wild Boars (Moo Pa) football team, Mai Sai
Akkapol chanthawong

Cut off from the outside world on an underground ledge known as Pattaya Beach some four kilometres (about 2.5 miles) from the entrance, the Wild Boars football team had no way of knowing if help was coming, or anyway to let rescuers know that they were still alive.

In appalling weather conditions mountain tops were scoured, cliff faces climbed, and crevices probed as alternate access routes to the Tham Luang cave complex were sought. It wasn’t until the ninth day (July 2) that rescuers reached the chamber housing Pattaya Beach and to their astonishment found the coach and his team all alive. It would take a further six days before a bold and risky plan was launched to bring them out.

With the difficulties and challenges of attempting to “swim” the inexperienced and untrained football players and their coach through the shoulder width passages in almost total darkness for some five hours not lost on anyone, a decision was made to sedate them with the anesthetic ketamine, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, and atropine, which slows the heart rate and reduces salivation.

The danger was that the rescue divers would have no way of knowing whether the masks on the boys had moved, or the oxygen tubes dislodged, until they got to the high points in the cave network, which would likely be too late to apply remedial measures, while the time required to clear the cave meant that the Wild Boars players would be moved in batches. Any failure in the methodology could see multiple casualties emerge from the flooded cave in succession.

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The risks were so great that specific assurances were sought from and given by the Royal Thai Government that none of those involved in the flooded cave rescue would face legal action or liability in the event of tragedy.

While the rescue went smoothly and the Wild Boars players and coach were successfully extricated from the flooded cave, two lives were lost.

Former Royal Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, died of asphyxiation while returning from delivering diving cylinders on July 6, 2018, while rescue diver and Thai Navy SEAL Beirut Pakbara died of a blood infection contracted during the operation in December 2019.

Thirteen Lives

Almost coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the dramatic rescue has been the release of the Amazon Studios and MGM trailer of the movie/ docudrama based on the Thailand flooded cave rescue, Thirteen Lives.

Thirteen Lives is the third visual production to focus on the Tham Luang flooded cave rescue — the first was The Cave (2019), while The Rescue, a documentary feature, was released last year — and has been described as a “biographical thriller” by director Ron Howard, whose past credits include Apollo13, The Da Vinci Code, and Grand Theft Auto.

Featuring a star-studded cast led by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell, Thirteen Lives, at least from from its trailer, appears to be a gripping, fast-moving production that will have movie-goers and those who watch it at home on streaming services sitting on the edge of their seats as they relive the world’s greatest rescue.

Thirteen Lives will release in select theaters on July 29 ahead of its global premiere on Prime Video on August 5.


The Rescue, a documentary feature, was released last year
Video National Geographic



Feature video Prime Video




  • The world is one: Thailand says thank you from the heart (video) (Asean News Today)
  • Thai football team cave rescue in photos (Asean News Today)
  • First Thai teen football players emerge from flooded cave (HD video) (Asean News Today)
  • First video of Thai football team alive trapped in flooded cave (HD video) *updated (Asean News Today)
  • Day 8: Heavy Equipment, Relief Teams Rushed to Thai Cave Rescue Site (video) (Asean News Today)
  • Thailand Prays as Day 6 of Search For Football Teens in Flooded Cave Ends (Asean News Today)
  • Drones & Robots Join Search For Thai Teens Believed Trapped in Flooded Cave (Asean News Today)


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