The divers in charge of the Thai cave rescue revealed the moment when they knew they'd have to sedate the boys to get them out

Thai NavySEAL/FacebookA video posted early on July 4 by Thailand’s Navy SEALs shows the stranded football team in the cave, saying they were well.
  • After the British divers located a boys’ soccer team after they became trapped in a Thai cave system last year they knew they would have to sedate the boys to get them out.
  • The BBC spoke with Vernon Unsworth and Richard Stanton about their experiences.
  • The boys and their coach were given ketamine, Xanax, and the saliva suppressant atropine so they wouldn’t panic during the rescue
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

An elaborate, carefully constructed rescue mission was orchestrated last year in order to rescue a boy’s soccer team and their coach became trapped in a Thai cave system. Sedation was an integral part of the ordeal, but it wasn’t always part of the plan.

Speaking to the BBC, Vernon Unsworth, one of the lead divers said there was one clear moment when he realised that the 12 boys and their coach would have to be sedated. When four officials were diving, one of them panicked. At that point, Unsworth realised the only way the boys would make it out alive would be if they were sedated.

Once he came up with the idea, he called allies including Australian anesthetist Richard “Harry” Harris and cave diver Rick Stanton. During an appearance on the BBC’s “Beyond Today” podcast, Unsworth recounted a conversation between Harris and cave diver Richard Stanton that took place a year ago.

“Rick had phoned Doc Harry, he said: ‘This is what we’ve got planned, but we need to sedate them.’

“Doc Harry said: ‘It won’t work.’ He said: ‘It just won’t work.’

“Rick said to Doc Harry: ‘Well, I’d like you to sleep on it overnight.’

“And Harry said to Rick: ‘Well, what if I decide not to do it?’

“And Rick said: ‘They all die.'”

Ultimately, the boys were given ketamine, Xanax, and saliva suppressant atropine so they wouldn’t panic during the rescue. Then, they were dragged out of the cave by the divers via a pulley system.

Read more: The Thai cave boys were sedated with a mixture of ketamine, Xanax, and a saliva suppressant, according to a new account of their traumatic rescue

Still, officials were nervous about the operation.

“We had UK embassy officials up there [in northern Thailand] looking after us because we were generally concerned for our own wellbeing in terms of if this all went wrong,” Unsworth told the BBC. “The finger would be pointed at us.”

The mission was a success. All 12 boys and their coach were successfully transported out of the cave over the course of three days last July. However, there was one casualty. On July 6, Saman Gunan, a retired Thai diver, died after losing consciousness due to a lack of oxygen during the rescue.

Monday marked one year since the boys accidentally became trapped in the cave system when completing a soccer team “initiation ceremony gone wrong.” This year, to mark the anniversary, the 12 boys and their coach attended a ceremony at the cave complex. A statue honouring Gunan has also been built at the mouth of the cave.

Hear Harris tell the full story on BBC’s “Beyond Today” podcast ยป

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