HomeNewsArticle Display

International rescue effort saves trapped soccer team

Thai Rescue

Airmen from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command prepare for dive operations July 2, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand. At the request of the Royal Thai government, USINDOPACOM sent a search and rescue team from Okinawa, Japan to assist Thai rescue authorities in locating 12 youth football players and their coach. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Jessica Tait)

Thai Rescue

Airmen from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command conduct a combined land survey with Thai rescue authorities July 1, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The U.S. team delivered search and rescue experience and capacity to the already tremendous effort underway by Thai authorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Jessica Tait)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- Twelve boys ranging from age 11 to 16, along with their soccer coach, found themselves stranded in a cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, June 23, 2018. After 17 days entrapment, an international rescue team successfully ended a nearly 3-week operation.

At the request of the Royal Thai government, members of the 320th Special Tactics Squadron from the 353rd Special Operations Group, and members of the 31st Rescue Squadron from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan were ready to go.

Upon arrival, members were divided into teams to help the mission. Some assessed possible rescue operations at the mouth of the cave while others created helicopter landing zones by clearing areas of the surrounding jungle and planned for scuba tank cache locations.

With 24-hour operations and 16 to 18 hour shifts, the international rescue team worked around the clock to overcome the many challenges they faced.

“It’s important for people to understand that this kind of rescue had never been attempted by anyone in the world,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam Lopez, 31st RQS pararescueman. “It was the most technically difficult mission any of us have ever been involved with.”

Confined space diving is considered to be extremely hazardous for even the most highly trained and competent divers, making it a high-risk mission for the rescuers and those trapped in the cave, he explained.

Unsure of where the children were within the cave, and whether they were even alive, the team needed to operate with a problem-solving mindset and communicate with all others in the mission – regardless of the inevitable communication barriers – to determine what efforts could be provided and by who.

“It was important for all the different supporting players to come together because everyone brought a different expertise to the table – no single entity had all the skills or answers to be able to complete the rescue,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Smith, 31st RQS pararescueman. “We all had something to offer and we needed to be united to complete the mission.”

As soon as the location of the children was determined, safety and risk mitigation became a priority for the rescue team and all others involved, to ensure the best possible outcome, explained Staff Sgt. Jamie Brisbin, 31st RQS pararescueman.

Having found the children, the international rescue team began the real prep work for fulfilling the rescue plan. However, because of the complexity of the effort, the team feared the loss of some of the children, unsure if everyone would survive.

“Due to the technical difficulty of this mission, we didn’t expect all of the children to survive the rescue,” Lopez said. “However, we had the right people and equipment in place, and we knew that due to the low oxygen levels in the cave, as well as the worsening weather that was sure to further flood the cave, we had a small window of time to execute a rescue. The risk mitigation that went into planning this rescue was done with such a high level of attention to detail that we knew the plan was solid.”

Kadena AB Airmen took on the role of executing logistics dives to pre-position scuba tanks that would later be used for divers to swap used tanks for full tanks, explained Master Sgt. Christopher Uriarte, 31st RQS pararescueman. The team placed over 200 strategically throughout the cave on the first day.

Another role performed by members of Kadena AB involved carrying the children from chamber to chamber and diving with them from the third chamber to the second chamber where they were handed off to Australian team members before being further guided by Thai members.

“It was an amazing experience to have so many people, regardless of nationality or culture, working together towards a common goal,” said Stephen Drakes, 31st RQS SERE specialist. “Obviously communication is the immediate barrier to any multi-national effort, and that was true during this rescue as well – we were able to overcome communication barriers by building solid relationships with the folks we worked with day-in and day-out. By the time we were pulling the kids out of the cave, we were operating as a cohesive team.”

While almost everyone involved had a personal sense of pride in their contribution to the success of the life-saving mission, many also found professional value in it.

“What I took away from this mission was gratitude toward our leadership; because this mission was so high risk, I expected that our involvement – specifically the confined space diving – would be restricted,” Uriarte said, “But we kept our leadership up to speed on our decision-making process and how we planned to mitigate risks, and they fully supported our decisions on how to execute at the tactical level.”

Overcoming so many difficulties and barriers may have been an accomplishment experienced only by those directly involved, but as news of the last child being rescued spread throughout the media – making it a 100 percent successful rescue mission – the world sighed in relief too.

Engage

Facebook Twitter
DYK: Aircraft have lifespans! Like humans, they require check-ups in the form of maintenance inspections to prolong their ability to fly. These "checks" prevent in-flight system failures which ultimately protects aircrew and passengers. Learn more from the 86th Maintenance Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on what it takes to correct issues so aircraft can stay airborne.
WATCH: United States Air Force pilots talk about the importance of Exercise Saber Strike 18 as they refuel over the Baltic Sea on June 18, 2018. Saber Strike 18 is a long-standing training exercise designed to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and our allies. The training focused on improving land and air operational capabilities between the U.S. and our NATO allies. (U.S. Air National Guard video by: Master Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf)
Check out some shots from yesterday's All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game in Washington, D.C. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals U.S. Army
Air Force and U.S. Army coed softball teams render military honors during the playing of the National Anthem during the All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game, Washington, D.C., July 13, 2018. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals
Great way to lead by example!
The United States Air Force is facing a pilot shortage. To help solve the challenge, the Aircrew Crisis Task Force was recently created to provide strategic direction and actionable recommendations to senior leaders on how to solve the aircrew manning crisis. FULL STORY: https://go.usa.gov/xUb3z
Your United States Air Force news: ✓ A B-52 crew assists in a search and rescue operation off the coast of Guam ✓ An Afghan pilot class graduates in the Czech Republic ✓ The Air Force is using innovative approaches to training pilots to make the process faster and more efficient
Now that’s how weathermen work! Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters fly weather reconnaissance missions into Tropical Storm Chris and Tropical Storm Beryl. http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1569944/hurricane-hunters-fly-tropical-storms-beryl-chris/
The F-22 Raptor's combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. Maintaining these aircraft can involve a bit of a learning curve. Airmen at KadenaAirBase use past technology to help learn how to work with the undefeated Raptor. FULL STORY: http://www.kadena.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1567295/hard-to-raptor-head-around/
Help us out! Can you caption this photo?
The B-52 Stratofortress has sniper pods that provide improved long-range target detection/identification and continuous stabilize surveillance for all missions, including close air support of ground forces. Air Force Global Strike Command crew members on a B-52 were able to spot a historic Pacific Island style canoe so that the U.S. Coast Guard could rescue the six passengers!
For the past 60 years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has continually helped us maintain a technological edge against our advarsaries. Together with the Air Force Research Laboratory - AFRL, a fusion of ideas is leading to newly highlighted innovations.
SOUND ON! Celebrate freedom with the sound of freedom! Happy Independence Day!
#DYK: Our #militaryworkingdogs are seen at veterinary treatment facilities, ensuring the #K9s are healthy and able… https://t.co/MZE22dcoZ1
The #USAF partnered with @DeptVetAffairs to implement the first Women’s Health Transition Pilot Program! Check out… https://t.co/mdlKYrV5Wg
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree! This Washington #AirNationalGuard #Airman followed her mother's footsteps… https://t.co/PCto8QNH9L
This year's #AirForce Legacy Series alternate uniform is so good looking, it's Spooky. #AC130 #LetsFly #Football https://t.co/MlBfXciboD
RT @HQ_AFMC: Check out the finalist video from @WrightPattAFB's Ryan Law and SrA Jean-Paul Arnaud-Marquez in the @AETCommand "We are Airmen…
#AirForce, @USArmy and Polish paratroopers participate in the annual Aviation Rotation bilateral training over Pola… https://t.co/Lz1rp4orUO
It takes a team to accomplish the mission! This #Airman strengthens her flight through her commitment to bodybuildi… https://t.co/6Me0JrHILM
The #AirForce’s ability to respond faster than our adversaries relies on the talent and leadership of #Airmen. This… https://t.co/i5ZMsQTKbe
.@MacDill_AFB #Airmen answered the call, provided support to a critical #AirForce mission. https://t.co/arv5pu9szU https://t.co/qTIMzxskqF
The multi-national, joint training #NorthernStrike 18 is underway at Grayling Army Airfield, MI. With over 5,000 pa… https://t.co/izwdzk37tC
After getting an eagle-eye view of the #JPARC at @EielsonAirForce, @SecAFOfficial spoke to #Airmen, civilians and t… https://t.co/6XNlXYfKSA
RT @DeptofDefense: Fill ‘er up! ⛽ This @USAirForce F-15E gets refueled in the air from a KC-135 Stratotanker while flying over the #US. htt…
The odds that these two brothers have the opportunity to serve together at the same base, let alone the same squadr… https://t.co/yk1TdruHes
It's that time again! Check out the most recent edition of #WIP. https://t.co/4CLv053giP https://t.co/LtHdImGG1S
#ICYMI: #VCSAF met with inaugural class of the #AirForce’s Aviation, Character and Education Flight Program that re… https://t.co/MrvtNjAn1p
As a apart of the continuous effort to develop leaders in a technical environment, the #AirForce is seeking nominat… https://t.co/hqtX7NP5FQ
For the first time Logistics Readiness Squadron #Airmen from @48FighterWing & @RAFMildenhall steer through Continge… https://t.co/wjICAnLrHK
RT @AFResearchLab: Ready to experience 9 times the force of gravity? We are. Just cut the ribbon on the @DeptofDefense's only human-rated…