Chief: Local rescues don’t compare to Thailand, but still dangerous

Published 2:27 am Thursday, July 12, 2018

For days, the world watched as expert divers rescued members of a soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand.

Opp Fire Chief Cory Spurlin, who is a certified scuba diver, said that the type of diving that the people used to rescue the boys is beyond dangerous.

“The Opp Fire and Rescue Squad dive team is not trained certified in cave-related type things,” Spurlin said. “We encounter little pickets under the lake, but we try not to go under, because divers that go under them go through completely different training that we don’t do.”

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, as well as their 25 year-old-coach, became trapped on June 23 by rising flood waters when exploring the caves after practice.

The team was found 2.5 miles from the entrance of the cave, most of which was flooded. It is monsoon season in Thailand.

“It was amazing for them to even get equipment to the boys,” Spurlin said. “I mean just the fact of keeping the equipment dry in the conditions especially if it something that is necessary.”

The boys had never used diving equipment before and some even had to have swimming lessons while in the cave.

The journey out of the caves was so dangerous that it had already resulted in the death of a former Thai Navy diver before the effort to take the boys out began.

Though Covington County does not have places nearly as dangerous as this, Spurlin said that they still work hard to give families closure and to help the community when tragedies occur.

“Behind the Point A and Gantt Lake dams are going to be the most dangerous places in Covington County,” Spurlin said. “We try to stay a couple feet away from them because if you don’t, then you might get sucked in and if you’re in a boat, you’ll get caught in a churning effect.”

One of the difficulties of the Thailand operation was that the divers could not see or communicate in the dark, murky waters.

“We are blessed that we have full mask underwater communication devices, or else it would be extremely difficult,” Spurlin said. “It helps a lot with visibility, because if you can’t see, then all you’re doing is feeling around, so we are very fortunate for it.”

Spurlin said that it is extremely hard to train for a situation that the Thailand divers had to go through.

“We start training in a controlled environment,” Spurlin said. “We get to train with all of our equipment in Opp City Pools and then go out further into Lake Frank Jackson to make it a little harder to see. We try to train as constantly as possible because we are there to help the people of Opp and Covington County.”

Spurlin praised the efforts of the Thai Navy Seals and the other forces that helped with the rescue mission.

“I think it is amazing that all these different groups came together and worked towards a common goal,” Spurlin said. “That’s what our work is all about, that no matter what, we work together.”

After being trapped for two weeks, all 12 boys and their coach were safely brought out of the cave on Tuesday.