Royal Thai Navy personnel leverage lessons, assistance from U.S. counterparts in cave rescue
Hundreds of military personnel and foreign rescuers assisted Thailand’s elite Navy SEAL unit during an intense 17-day mission to save 12 young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave, and lessons learned during bilateral trainings with their U.S. counterparts contributed greatly to the success of their mission, Thai military personnel said.
Many of the Thai rescue contributors were veterans of U.S.-involved training events such as Cobra Gold, which is held annually in Thailand and is the Indo-Pacific’s largest multinational exercise. The 37th iteration of Cobra Gold concluded in February 2018 and included lessons to ensure effective responses to regional crises.
“When the situation at the cave broke out, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and SOCPAC [Special Operations Command Pacific] immediately sent a rescue team to join the cave rescue mission,” said Rear Adm. Apakorn Yukongkaew, commander of the Royal Thai Navy Special Warfare Center. “The successful completion of this operation certainly reflects our long-lasting and fulfilling relationship, which is unlikely to ever be broken.”
The U.S. team consisted primarily of 353rd Special Operations Group personnel, augmented by a civil-military support element and regional information support team. The 353rd personnel included U.S. Air Force pararescuemen with skills in diving, medical and high-angle rescue. (Pictured: Airmen from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command work with Royal Thai Navy SEALs and international search and rescue teams on the plan for dive operations to rescue 12 soccer players and their coach in July 2018.)
Although the civilian cave divers were the ones who physically brought the 12 young members of the soccer team and their coach out, U.S. military personnel dived to clear obstacles and stage equipment. The high-angle rescue skills and rope rescue equipment brought by the United States helped move the soccer team via a rope line through the cave’s rough, steep terrain. Pararescuemen also assisted in triaging the soccer players and their coach as they came out of the water enroute to a nearby field hospital.
Beyond the technical skills the U.S. team brought as special operators, they were skilled in working with foreign partners in an advise-and-assist role, providing a solid planning and debriefing framework that supported the Royal Thai Navy SEALs and helped them harness the multinational, interagency effort that culminated with a successful mission.