Saving face while saving boys

This is very unfortunate:

A former Thai navy diver has died while taking part in efforts to rescue 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.

Petty Officer Saman Gunan lost consciousness on his way out of the Tham Luang cave complex, where he had been delivering air tanks.

“His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back,” the Chiang Rai deputy governor said.

PO Saman was brought out by his dive partner but could not be revived.

At a guess, this guy had an awful lot of diving experience but not much cave diving experience, and the difference is likely stark.

The challenges of rescuing the boys are not only technical but organisational as well. For a start, who is in charge? In the early days the Brits who initially found them seemed to have a free hand, and they are probably the most experienced cave rescue divers in the world. However, there is also a massive operation underway to pump water out of the cave, which has brought the military into play. There is also logistics surrounding food, clothing, and medial supplies for the trapped people as well as those working day and night on the rescue efforts. So it will need to be a Thai-led operation, which can bring its own complications.

Like many Asian cultures, Thais are very conscious about saving face and it will be difficult for them to cede control to foreigners when trying to rescue Thais trapped underground in Thailand. I wonder if the poor navy diver who died took risks he shouldn’t have, or disregarded advice from the experienced Brits, because he didn’t want to lose face? It would not be surprising if this was the case. This isn’t to say the Brits or any other foreigners should take the lead, it’s more to point out that the expertise will come in many forms from far and wide, and whoever is coordinating the whole operation needs to put pride aside and draw on outside help to the maximum extent while ignoring the cranks, idiots, and opportunists. This would be difficult in any country, even for an emergency response crew who’d trained for something like this, and I can’t imagine the Thais have.

However they manage things I hope they succeed with the rescue, but it’s looking more complicated by the day. The fact they’ve already lost an experienced diver is an indication of how difficult this will be.


8 thoughts on “Saving face while saving boys

  1. There are certain parallels here to be drawn with nationalisation programmes in traditionally multinational extractive industries…

  2. There are certain parallels here to be drawn with nationalisation programmes in traditionally multinational extractive industries…

    Oh yes, like a certain oil spill that happened offshore west Africa a few Christmases back and the response team had been fully nationalised. Yeah, that went well.

  3. If they’re under pressure in their little pocket, they’re going to have a hell of a time decompressing aren’t they?

  4. @ the pedant general.
    No, they can’t be. There must be natural ventilation or they’d be dead long ago.
    There may be pockets of foul air along the route, but the media reporting of oxygen levels going down to 15% must be BS, as 6% CO2 (what else?) is lethal.

    I’m surprised they appear* not to have got round to fixed ropes, and are still using scuba. There must be a Thai equivalent of the myth of Theseus and the minotaur, but it does all seem to be very hit and miss. There is a risk, when unlimited kit and men are readily available from every nation, that the rescue becomes like the Ascent of Drumgoogle (v. funny book, still in print) but the strategy must be to make safe with a margin of error, AND NO MORE.

    I’ve supervised some of these ex-Navy locals. They come in two types, both with the same qualifications. The first type is good, the second…

    * The media are imbeciles. They don’t know the difference between air and oxygen, so I expect we’re not getting good reporting on an other stuff either.

  5. @Zut

    Yes the media analysis on their physical predicament is absolutely woeful, on air quality, on groundwater hydrology, on geological ground conditions, on shaft and tunneling options, on everything, the guys actually involved in the rescue will know the real analysis and they will succeed in this very challenging situation.

  6. I’d also note that the military (anyone’s) welcoming taking advice , in their specialist area (as they would like to think it) from civilians is, err, unusual.

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