Thai boys safe after daring underwater rescue ends their 18-day cave ordeal

Dramatic race against time to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave

Today's expression: Fill up
Explore more: Lesson #66
July 13, 2018:

Twelve boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach were rescued from a cave in northern Thailand after floodwaters stranded them on a ledge for 18 days. The group was trapped in a cave after monsoon rains flooded the passageways. After 10 days stranded with no food or water, a team of rescue divers found them"”and the search for an escape route began. In the end, the boys were evacuated by teams of expert divers who helped them navigate the dark and treacherous cave system with scuba gear. On today's episode, learn the English phrase "fill up."

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Thailand won its dramatic race against time to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave

Twelve boys and their soccer coach went exploring in a cave in northern Thailand and were stuck in there for weeks, after the cave flooded, blocking off their only way out. This week, everyone was rescued in a daring rescue attempt.

Welcome to Plain English, episode number 66 for Friday, July 13, 2018. I’m Jeff. The producer of Plain English is JR, and together we bring you a podcast that goes a little bit slower just for people who are learning English. The transcript of today’s episode can be found online at PlainEnglish.com/66. Like always, we have interactive transcripts with translations of the hardest words and phrases from English to Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, French and Italian. But today’s episode has some parts that were written at the last minute—so we weren’t able to bring you translations of the whole episode just because so much of this story happened in the last couple of days.

We are getting close to knowing the World Cup champion and just a quick reminder that we’ll have an episode coming out on Monday which will be all about the grand finale of the world’s biggest sporting competition, the World Cup. So even if you’re not a soccer fan, you might tune in to the World Cup final on Sunday because that’s what we’ll be talking about together the next day. That’s Sunday evening in Europe, mid-day here in the Americas. Check your local listings, as they say.


Race against time to save trapped boys in Thailand

All twelve members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach were successfully rescued from the cave in Thailand in which they had been trapped by floodwaters. The dramatic rescue capped an 18-day ordeal that unfolded under an international media spotlight and featured a worldwide search-and-rescue effort by engineers, divers, Navy SEALs, and explorers.

It all started on June 23, when thirteen people went exploring in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand. They soon became stranded, trapped by rising floodwaters and unable to escape. They were 12 boys between the ages of 11 and 16 and their 25-year old soccer coach. A frantic search operation discovered them alive but disoriented, malnourished and dehydrated after ten days in the dark cave—but they were only discovered after an ambitious search party braved steep climbs and difficult dives to reach them. The boys didn’t even know how to swim, and until the very last days of the ordeal, it was never clear how they might be able to escape.

The caves consist of long passageways that go up and down, and side to side underneath a mountain. While the boys were inside, the monsoon rains struck the area and flooded the caves, trapping the boys and their coach inside. These caves are a narrow and winding network of underground tunnels, and when floodwaters enter, the water blocks the way in by filling up the low areas. And that’s exactly what happened when the soccer team was deep inside the network of tunnels: they became trapped as water filled up the entrances behind them. By blocking access to the outside, the floodwater also blocks oxygen from entering from the surface, further endangering the group.

Ten days after the team initially went missing, two experienced British rescue divers discovered the group huddled together on a ledge about two and a half miles (or four kilometers) from the entrance. Their health was as good as could be expected under the circumstances. Pictures emerged showing the kids to be in relatively good health. But the joy from seeing the kids alive, huddled under foil blankets was immediately tempered by the enormity of the rescue effort ahead: the hard part would be getting them out alive.

This is a big problem. The journey out of the cave was a five-hour dive, through dark, muddy waters in blackout conditions. Parts of the passageway are too narrow for a person to wear a traditional air tank. None of the trapped boys knew how to swim. One expert diver had already died from lack of oxygen on the return journey from a supply mission: if an expert diver died on the journey, it would be extremely difficult for 12 novice swimmers to come out safely.

The Thai government and Navy were in charge of the rescue operation and they considered exploring other options—but none was easy. One option was to have the kids stay in the cave until the rainy season ends, but that would have been months and they’d have to find a way to pump oxygen into the cave and supply the boys with food and water that whole time. There was also the possibility that more rain would further flood the caves and drown everyone trapped inside. So just waiting was a risky option.

Another option was to look for another entrance into the cave system—but there were no other ways in. Authorities explored drilling straight down from above, but ruled that out since you don’t know exactly how drilling might affect the areas below. They didn’t want to drill a hole from the top only to cause the caves below to collapse.

The final option was pumping the water out, and they tried this at first. Almost since the discovery, the Thai government had been pumping water out of the cave system, but the pumping barely made a dent in the water level and there was more rain in the forecast.

With no good options, the Thai Navy decided to stage a daring rescue once the water levels naturally fell to their lowest level since the boys were first discovered. With rain in the forecast, they knew that there might not be a better time to get the boys out. The fact that the oxygen levels in the cave were falling to dangerous levels lent a sense of urgency to the rescue effort.

In order to get out, the boys would need to learn how to use scuba gear. So a team of expert divers went in, equipped with specially-fitted, full-face masks for the boys to use—and the experts taught them how to use the gear down in the cave. The boys came out one at a time—four on Sunday, four on Monday, and the last group on Tuesday. Each one was accompanied by two expert divers to help them navigate the narrow and dangerous path to safety. After getting through the narrow, flooded paths, they could walk most of the rest of the way to safety. They were all given anti-anxiety medication before making the journey.

All the boys are now in the hospital. They need to recover their strength and some are being treated for minor issues. Doctors will be looking for respiratory diseases caused by breathing in the stale air of the caves. Doctors have also said the boys “seem to be in high spirits” and have asked for bread with chocolate spread—which they were given.

The rescue was a tremendous feat of engineering and bravery, which recalls the effort to rescue 33 Chilean miners who were stuck underground for 69 days in 2010. They were eventually rescued before a worldwide television audience.

I had no idea how this was going to turn out. I told you earlier this week that I was refreshing my phone every few hours to see what was going to happen—I couldn’t imagine getting the kids to put on scuba gear and dive through narrow passageways, considering they didn’t even know how to swim. But it seemed to me that just waiting for the dry season was too risky. When I heard the rescue divers went in to get them one by one, I knew it was the right decision to try to make the rescue when they did. You can’t say that the mission was 100% a success because one volunteer rescue diver did lose his life on a supply mission, but in terms of getting all the boys and their coach out—the mission was definitely a success. And those kids are extremely brave for learning how to dive and then escaping the way they did.


The expression for today is “fill up” but before we get to that, I wanted to say hi to Müller from Brazil. He is a doctor in Porto Alegre and is listening to Plain English because in his experience listening helps him speak with more confidence. I can’t argue with that—and thanks to Müller for being in the audience.

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