Austin scuba instructor thinks Thailand rescue is a miracle

PHOTO: Thai rescue teams arrange a water pumping system at the entrance to the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. (Photo: Royal Thai Navy)

Crews in Thailand are celebrating the end of an 18-day rescue mission to save a young soccer team and their coach. All 13 are now safely out of the flooded cave where they were trapped. The ordeal riveted people around the world, including one Austin scuba instructor who thinks the rescue by Thailand's Navy SEALs is a miracle.

Rob Aschermann is a scuba diver and instructor. He also runs the Swim School of Austin. So when he heard some of the 12 boys had no experience in the water he knew everything that could go wrong.

“It's been incredibly dramatic and kind of harrowing over the last couple of weeks,” said Aschermann. “They had to be terrified.”

Aschermann has owned Scubaland Adventures for about 20 years. He teaches people to dive and has been involved in several rescues at Lake Travis. Even with the best gear, Aschermann says navigating narrow passages in cold, dark water that's moving quickly would intimidate him and most experienced divers.

“Considering the fact that one of the rescuers himself died while staging tanks for those kids to escape tells you that those conditions were no joke,” said Aschermann.

The 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach had to navigate a two-and-a-half-mile path flooded with murky water. Two divers guided each boy, one in the front and the other in the back. The boys did not wear standard scuba masks. Instead they were outfitted with full face masks and Aschermann thinks that helped keep them from panicking.

“Your entire mouth and noise is encapsulated inside the mask and the mask seals around your face,” said Aschermann. “So when you breathe, you can breathe through your mouth or your nose just like you would if you were on land.”

Even with the full masks the novice swimmers were also given anti-anxiety medication.

“It's all about not panicking,” said Aschermann. “It's the panic that kills.”

Cheers erupted on Tuesday with the successful end of the 18-day saga. Aschermann thinks the real impact of the heroic rescues will be realized long after the celebration.

“I imagine some of those kids will go on to become Navy SEALs,” said Aschermann.

For now, the boys are just asking for favorite foods like toast and Nutella. They also would like to either go to the World Cup or at least get to watch it.

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