2018 Thai cave rescue featured in riveting new documentary

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The whole world was watching when rescuers brought 12 kids and their soccer coach out of a flooded cave system in Thailand — after 18 days.


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You could probably call it a miracle without fear of contradiction.

The 2018 rescue seemed impossible at the time, particularly as it took nine days for skilled divers to even find the group and establish that they were still alive.

It is an extraordinary story. A gripping new film called The Rescue showsthat the entire operation was a thousand times more gobsmacking than anyone knew.

The Rescue, in movie theatres in Toronto (Hot Docs Bloor) and Vancouver, is a documentary about the unbelievably complicated preparations required to get those boys and their coach safely out of a watery grave.

The boys were members of a soccer club called The Wild Boars and had gone into the caves, which they all knew well, to explore for an hour after a practise.


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Early monsoon rains brought an unexpected torrent of water that trapped the group about four kilometres from the mouth of the cave and two kilometres deep. Their hour’s adventure became a two week nightmare.

The Rescue is completely engrossing, although it should come with a claustrophobia trigger warning. The title says it all, and yet even knowing how the story ends does not make it any less riveting or suspenseful.

As it happens, the Tham Luang cave rescue was not so much a miracle as it was a whole series of miracles. It’s a miracle, for example, that the boy’s coach, Ekapol Chantawong, 25,was a former monk and got the kids to meditate during their ordeal, which helped them stay calm, improved their spirits and conserved oxygen.


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And it’s a miracle that the collection of rescuers came together as they did. The most astounding part of The Rescue is realizing that this perilous undertaking involving some 5000 people — including the Royal Thai Navy SEALs and US Special Forces — was led by an international crew of bookish civilians with an unusual hobby.

Cave diving is a wildly dangerous pastime, and men like retired firefighter Rick Stanton, IT consultant John Volanthen and Australian Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris happen to be among the best in the world.

Getting to know these men is one of the most appealing parts of The Rescue. Hearing them matter-of-factly discuss the most distressing details of getting the children safely through a two and a half hour trip out of the caves, and watching their courage and compassion, is enough to restore your faith in humanity.

News coverage at the time made it sound as if the divers went in, found the boys alive and figured out how to retrieve them, but the inside story shown here is mind-boggling.

The Rescue was created out of never-before-seen footage and exclusive interviews with those who were there. National Geographic photographer Jimmy Chin and diver Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi are the Academy-Award winning husband and wife filmmaking team behind the movie.

The Rescue won the Audience Award for documentary at TIFF a few weeks ago, just as the directors’ film Free Solo did before going on to win a 2019 Oscar.


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