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All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat is a middle grade nonfiction account of a challenging, 18-day rescue operation to save 12 soccer players and their coach who were trapped inside a cave in Thailand. Through the author’s research of events, including interviews with those involved, she provides a detailed and suspenseful account of the rescue. The story captured the attention of millions of people around the globe. Soontornvat herself became captivated by the story because when the boys became trapped, she was visiting family in Northern Thailand, not far from the flooded cave, Tham Luang.
Published in 2020, the book highlights several themes: The Importance of Teamwork and Communication, The Role of Resilience in Survival, and The Significance of Mental Strength. The book received numerous accolades, including Newbery Medal Nominee (2021), SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Older Readers Nonfiction (2021), Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature (2021), YALSA Award Nominee for Excellence in Nonfiction (2021), and NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book (2021).
This guide references the 2020 print edition.
On June 23, 2018, 12 boys on the Wild Boars soccer team accompanied their assistant coach on an outing to explore the local cave Tham Luang after practice. Coach Ek led them several miles inside the cave on dry ground. However, when they started back toward the cave entrance, the passage they had come through just hours earlier was flooded, trapping them in the cave. By nightfall, the boys’ parents became worried and called park rangers. The boys’ bikes were found parked outside the cave, indicating that they were likely trapped inside.
Floodwaters rose with heavy rains throughout the night, and local rescue divers attempted to push past the flooded passage, but their air tanks didn’t fit through the small cave passage. On June 25, the Royal Thai Navy SEALs, summoned to help with the rescue operation, struggled to battle the fierce current inside the cave. They made it past the flooded passage at the cave’s Sam Yaek junction but were unable to push further because of dwindling air supplies. The SEALs were experienced open water divers, but cave diving is a completely different skill set. Vern Unsworth, a local expat from England, knew Tham Luang better than anyone. He urged Thai leadership to call in experienced cave divers to help.
Inside the cave, the Wild Boars sheltered on a sandy hill and drank water that trickled down the cave walls. They were cold, hungry, and discouraged, but Coach Ek led them in meditation to help calm their minds. Outside, the rain continued to fall, so the floodwaters only rose. US Air Force Major Charles Hodges and his Special Tactics Squadron were summoned and started exploring every option for reaching the boys. Using hundreds of rescue personnel and volunteers, they assembled teams to search for alternate entrances to the cave, considered drilling into it, and looked for ways to lower the water level. Meanwhile, two of the world’s best cave divers—Rick Stanton and John Volanthen—arrived at base camp. They dove through the flooded sections of the cave and, to their surprise, found four volunteers who were helping to pump water out of the cave but became trapped when quickly rising floodwaters forced workers to evacuate. They dove the men out in an unplanned rescue but were still no closer to finding the boys.
On June 28, a young man named Thanet Natisri arrived at Tham Luang. An expert on groundwater, Thanet came to investigate lowering the water levels inside the cave. He and his team found a nearby pond that seemed to connect to the cave, and they started digging ditches and pumping water to make room for water to flow out. Back at the cave entrance, conditions were too dangerous for diving because the current was too strong, and tension ensued between the British cave divers and the Thai Navy SEALs, who were ready to take any risks necessary to reach the boys. By July 1, the boys had been in the cave for a week. They were starving and at risk of hypothermia but hadn’t given up. With encouragement from Coach Ek, they started digging, hoping to find a way out. Rescuers were uncertain whether the boys were still alive, but when the rain stopped and the water started to recede, they knew they had to act.
Thanet continued pumping water and learned that some of the water entering Tham Luang was coming from above the cave. He found a stream running across the top of Tham Luang that contained several sinkholes, and he and his team began working to cover them and divert the water to pass over Tham Luang rather than seep into it. At base camp, on day 10 of the rescue, Rick and John made another dive attempt. This time, they reached the boys and were elated to find all 12 of them and Coach Ek alive and relatively healthy, considering the circumstances. They promised to return the next day with food and captured a video of the boys that went viral on news stations around the world.
Everyone was overjoyed to learn that the boys were alive, but getting them out safely remained a daunting task. No alternate entrances to the cave were found, and the mountain was too thick to reach the boys by drilling. Rescuers felt that only two options were viable: Wait out the rains and rescue the boys once the floodwaters were gone, or dive the boys out of the cave. Both options were risky, and the Thai leadership disagreed with the British and American teams about the best approach.
Supply dives were made to the boys with food and medicine, but some SEAL divers became trapped too because they misjudged how much air they’d need. However, the SEALs helped boost the boys’ morale as they waited for the rescuers to solidify a plan. Tragically, during one supply dive, retired Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan died. His death underscored the danger of the conditions and triggered conflicting responses from rescuers. The Thai leadership wanted to wait out the floodwaters and continue supply dives. Major Hodges and his team, along with the British divers, held that a dive rescue, although risky, was their best option.
Major Hodges was given the chance to present his dive rescue plan to the Thai leaders and succeeded in convincing them to move forward with the dive rescue. By now, elite cave divers from around the world had gathered at Tham Luang, and they spent a day practicing for their roles in the rescue. They decided that to keep the boys from panicking during the dive, they’d be sedated. This added another element of risk and uncertainty to the rescue.
For several days, the rain held off, but more rain was forecast. The divers had only a few days. On July 8, they rescued the first four boys. As problems arose, the divers responded efficiently, and over the next two days they rescued the other eight boys, along with Coach Ek. Although the cave divers had an essential role in the rescue, so did the Thai Navy SEALs, Thanet and his team, and countless others. The Navy SEALs who were in the cave with the boys dove out last, and just as the last diver surfaced, the chamber where they’d all been trapped began flooding.
Incredibly, a seemingly impossible rescue was a complete success. The boys recovered in the hospital, and when they were released, they pledged as novice monks for nine days to express their thankfulness. They were humbly grateful to the thousands of people who helped bring them out of the cave safely, and they had new ambitions for their future.