Dramatic rescues from mines and caves should provide hope to families in Thailand awaiting word on the fate of a young soccer team trapped in a vast, watery cave.
The boys and their 25-year-old coach vanished almost two weeks ago after entering the cave before flooding caused by heavy rains blocked their exit. Divers found them Monday, hungry but safe. Now authorities are trying to determine how to get them out.
“The average person can’t imagine how difficult it would be,” said Robert Laird, co-founder of the U.S.-based International Underwater Cave Rescue and Recovery. “These kids are not diving just to go diving. They are in a life-or-death situation.”
There have been many rescues around the globe over the years. Here are some of the most dramatic:
‘Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33’
A cave-in at a mine in Copiapó, Chile, on Aug. 5, 2010, trapped 33 men almost a half-mile underground. There was no word from the victims for 17 days, until rescuers drilled a test hole and sent a probe down into the mine. When they pulled the probe back up, a note was attached. The English translation: “We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us.” Chilean officials teamed up with NASA and dozens of corporations in a global rescue effort. Food and water were sent down while an extrication plan was developed and executed. Trapped for 69 days, the men emerged essentially unharmed to worldwide acclaim.
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‘Nine for nine’
Nine workers at the Quecreek Mine in Somerset Count, Pennsylvania, were trapped after accidentally breaking through a wall, releasing more than 70 million gallons of water into the mine on July 24, 2002. Rescuers feverishly drilled holes 240 feet down to provide air, not knowing if anyone was alive. More holes were drilled to pump water out of the mine. “Nine for nine” was the optimistic slogan Gov. Mark Schweiker coined as the nation awaited word. Three days later a microphone was sent down, and rescuers finally learned that all nine men were alive, trapped in a four-foot high tunnel. The next day all were retrieved safely. The result was the book “Nine For Nine: The Pennsylvania Mine Rescue Miracle.”
‘Magnificent operation’ saves 7 in France
Seven experience potholers were trapped when heavy rains blocked exits to a five-mile network of caves in southern France on Nov. 22, 1999. That began a 10-day odyssey that gripped the European nation. Teams drilled a series of holes in an effort to find the men, who were carefully rationing food, water and lamp fuel. Virtually all hope was lost when they were finally found and brought back to the surface, still with about two more days of their minimal supplies. Regional Gov. Michel Sappin called the effort a “magnificent operation,” adding that the “best reward was to be able to give the families the good news.”
America spellbound by ‘Baby Jessica’
It was only one person and the rescue only took 2 1/2 days, but very few news stories have seized the nation’s attention the way tiny Jessica McClure did. She was 18 months old when she fell into a backyard well at her aunt’s daycare center in Midland, Texas, on Oct. 14, 1987. With cable news just coming into its own — CNN had been broadcasting for seven years — the story of Baby Jessica drew 24/7 coverage. The well was 22 feet deep and only eight inches wide. Dense rock slowed efforts to drill a parallel shaft. Rescuers asked her to sing so they knew she was ok, and the song from Winnie the Pooh brought tears to their eyes. She was extricated to wild applause after 58 hours, losing a toe, gaining a small scar on her forehead but otherwise in good shape. A photo of the little girl, caked in dirt, being removed from the well would have gone viral if such things occurred in 1987. Some solace for photographer Scott Shaw: It won him a Pulitzer Prize.