Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Could the Thai rescue have happened in India?

My article Could the Thai rescue have happened in India? appeared last week in

Here is the link...

It is Football’s Season.
While the great quadrennial fiesta was making the front pages of the world press in Russia and the last qualified teams were struggling in their quest for the Graal, another football saga was taking place in Asia, which has not yet graduated in soccer’s world elite.
Thailand is not usually known for its football skills, but after young football players (the ‘Wild Boar’), aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach entered a cave at the Tham Luang in northern Thailand on a team-bonding session on June 23, they became the subject of world attention. That day, they had just completed a football practice, and they decided to experiment a new adventure. In the evening they were reported missing.
Immediately, local officials realized that the kids were trapped by heavy rains which had cut them off from the main entrance of a cave.
With the mounting level of water due to the monsoon, the team had to take shelter deeper and deeper in the caves, ending up nearly 5 km from the entrance.
Their 18-day adventure has been a series of miracles and human determination, meticulous organization using the best available skills on the planet.
After their successful rescue, Narongsak Osatanakorn, the head of the joint command centre coordinating the operation declared: “Today Thai people, team Thailand, achieved mission impossible.”
The first miracle was that on July 2, after nine days in the cave, they were found alive, though emaciated and hungry, by a highly-skilled diver. The ledge, where they had taken refuge was also threatened by encroaching floodwaters.
It was a first relief for the boys, their coach, their families and the Thai people. The starving boys could finally receive some food, medicine and counseling from a doctor who joined them.
It was the beginning of a long story which will certainly end up on our cinema screens once Hollywood realizes that there is some money to make on what could have turned into a great tragedy.
One interesting question, would such a ‘mission impossible’ have been possible in India?
It is of course a very hypothetical subject and one can only pray that similar circumstances do not occur anywhere in the world.
A first remark, the Thai junta who immediately took control of the operations in a military manner, took the decision to involve the best world professionals for the rescue.
This made a huge difference. It is highly probable that in India, the authorities would have said, “We have the expertise, we don’t need foreign aid”.
On June 27, a team of more than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command, including pararescue and survival specialists, arrived on the site; they were joined by three British diving experts. The involvement of the best world specialists changed the scenario.
An Australian doctor was also rushed from his holidays to join the rescue team; Dr Richard Harris, an anesthetist from Adelaide, Australia went into the cave; he would be of immense service for the stricken boys and their coach in medically assessing the 12 boys and their coach. Dr Harris has a long expertise in rescue mission and dangerous cave diving missions.
Incidentally, Dr Harris was the last member to leave the Thai cave after the boys had been saved; he emerged to discover that his father had died just as the operation was coming to an end. What a sad fate!
The Thai authorities also requested Flood Pumps of Kirloskar Co. of India to come and provide their knowledge; Prasad Kulkarni, Chief Designer at Kirloskar and his team reached soon to help (partially) pumping millions of gallons obstructing the tunnels in the cave.
The Indian government would have probably not had the wisdom to call ‘foreigners’ to help.
Another issue: would the Indian government have had the courage to ban the local and international media from the proximity of the site of the cave. Here again it is a hypothetical question, but one can very well envisage some of the ‘famous’ Indian reporters standing in the cave with water till their knees, screaming into their mike to inform ‘the People’. And for sure, endless and futile debates would have taken place in the TV studios, all featuring great ‘experts’ giving their opinions on how to dig a hole in the mountain or use ‘vedic’ meditation to save the children. It would only have confused the issue.
The junta might not be democratically inclined, but they acted decisively and professionally for the good of the kids and their coach.
And they acted under a unified command, speaking with a unified voice.
In India, several ministries would have probably tried to take the control of the ‘operations’ claiming their ‘expertise’.
Another frightening thought, in India the debate would have surely been immediately politicized; the opposition taking the opportunity to settle scores on the safety of the public places or the lack of coordination in the government circles and the government showing off its ‘great organizational skills’.
Then, who could have stopped the country’s VIPs flocking to the site for sharing a ‘bite’ with the media and telling their electors of their ‘personal’ directives to the divers. It would have created utter chaos, and we know who would have been the sufferers.
In the present case, the Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-O-Cha delayed a planned visit to the site so as not to disrupt the rescue operations. He remained at nearby Chiang Rai, the town in Northern Thailand where the rescued boys were being taken by helicopter to a hospital; the PM was briefed about the conduct the on-going efforts, without disturbing the operations.
Would have this been possible in India?
On the second day of the main rescue operation, AP news agency complained about the difficulty of getting officials to go on the record about the details of the rescue operations: “Thai authorities are being tight-lipped about who was inside an ambulance seen leaving the site, as they were the night before when four of the 13 people trapped inside the underground complex were rescued.”
The correspondent added: “Multiple calls to senior government officials and military personnel leading the operation to rescue the members of the youth soccer team rang unanswered.”
But retrospectively, it was wise to give only a few details of the on-going operations (in particular the names of the kids rescued was not publicized).
The safety of the children, their coach and the divers was the only priority.
Narongsak Osatanaskorn, the former governor, who coordinated the efforts to save the lives of the young football players, spoke a few times, with just what was necessary to be known.
It is only after the 18-day marathon to evacuate the boys was over that he declared: “I never imagined this could happen – but we did it. We completed mission impossible.”
Glenn McEwan, the Australian Federal Police’s Asia manager who participated in the rescue, asserted: “It is amazing what the human being can do. There are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. …We are humbled to have been a part of it. Returning the Wild Boar soccer team safely into the arms of their loved ones is the good news of the year.”
Osatanaskorn also said the rescue effort would serve as a ‘lesson to the world’. India too should study the operation and learn some lessons.
Then the nation could chant ‘hooyah, hooyah, hooyah’, the rallying sign the Thai Navy Seals, who played an extraordinary role in the three-day operation, along with their colleagues from around the world.
Each time a boy came out, the Seals’ Facebook page would post a ‘Hooyah’.
They completed their impossible mission in 60 hours during a round-the-clock operation with seasonal monsoon rains threatening to trap the boys and their coach further inside the cave.
Only one regret, the kids and their coach will not be able to attend the final of the World Cup in Moscow, where they were invited. The doctors want to keep them under observation for some time; one understands this after such traumatic experience.
‘Hooyah’ anyway.

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