We broke every diving rule: Thai rescue cave diver
Dubai - Brown was part of the team of expert divers who helped in rescuing 12 Thai students and their coach stranded inside a complex cave network.
Don't do things like an average person because you will never really make a difference, advised Canadian cave diving explorer Erik Brown, known for his crucial role in the Thai caves rescue operation in 2018.
Brown was part of the team of expert divers who helped in the herculean task of rescuing 12 Thai students and their coach stranded inside a complex cave network in Thailand. Erik, who spent 63 hours inside the cave, shared his story during the fifth Middle East Dive and Fish Expo that took place at the Dubai World Trade Centre from January 9 to 11.
"You never know how your talents might help save lives which is why you must find what you love and excel in it, no matter how big or small. I didn't get into scuba diving thinking I would ever get involved in such a situation. I had a passion for the sport and it gave me a chance to serve the world and the feeling is indescribable," Brown told Khaleej Times.
He said there are things that one learns only through experience. "I want to share that with the world as you won't find any of that in books. The Thai cave rescue call happened overnight for me. I was just chilling at a beach in Thailand when I got a call to help in the rescue. Two days later I was in the caves helping get the boys out of the perilous caves."
Life or death situation
"It is not a dive that you would ever do with the consequences that we were faced with. There was zero visibility and increasing water level and complex network of caves and no one would want to dive in that situation. Time was crucial as the boys were already untraceable for nine days. We knew that if we decided not to go, chances of the boys coming out alive would be bleak. It was almost a life or death kind of situation and we had to break almost every diving rule we had learned in that situation.
"Meticulous planning, good decision making, teamwork, courage, kindness and humanity were key qualities that helped to make the mission successful. We broke into teams: One team was responsible for putting the line inside the cave that would help divers find their way in and out of the cave network. It took us almost eight days to find the kids but jubilation quickly gave way to the realisation that their rescue would be extremely dangerous," said Brown, about the mental, physical and emotional abilities the 13 member international diving experts took for the 'almost impossible task'.
"The children had to be sedated before being brought out of the cave, and we had a doctor diver as part of the rescue group. He administered drugs to keep the children unconscious until they were brought out of the 3km cave. Bringing out each kid took about three to four hours," Brown said.
"I was stationed at one of the chambers and had to change oxygen tanks as the children were brought from one cave chamber to another. The kids had to be completely packed with their hands tied and full face masks, like those worn by firefighters."
The team lost two Thai navy seals in the operation - one during the process, and another, a year after the rescue mission due to some blood infection he got during the mission.
Challenges during the mission were numerous, he said. "We had so many factors to be concerned - getting lost underwater which will create panic, running out of oxygen, getting in fish traps or getting entangled in the lines put to find our way out, hitting our heads and bodies into rocks. Apart from this, the main concern was how to bring the kids out as they did not how to even swim and even if they did, this was not a normal swim."