'Freezing water with zero visibility but we kept going': Singaporean diver who took part in Thai cave operation
SINGAPORE: When trained rescue diver Douglas Yeo finally emerged from the flooded Tham Luang cave complex on Tuesday evening, he was offered bottles of ice-cold Chang Beer.
But having spent more than 12 hours in the complex, diving through “freezing” muddy waters, what the 50-year-old Singaporean craved for most was oxygen.
“There was no excessive celebrations. Some divers were happy but we weren’t sure of the conditions of the boys. It just felt good to remove our masks and breathe the fresh air,” said Mr Yeo.
He was among the thousands of people from around the world who came to Chiang Rai and helped rescue the 12 boys and their coach from the cave complex where they had been trapped in for more than two weeks.
Mr Yeo was tasked to help with the last phase of the operation – to evacuate the last four boys and their coach from the depths of the cave.
In a phone interview with Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Jul 12) from Chiang Rai, Mr Yeo said he decided to volunteer for the rescue operation after reading the news about the perilous situation the Wild Boars football team were in.
“I had a calling. I talked about it with my wife and my mother, and they gave their blessing,” said the father of three boys who rushed to northern Thailand via Bangkok on Monday evening after contacting an official involved in the operation.
Mr Yeo said that the most difficult part of the rescue attempt was the need to be patient. He and his fellow rescue divers, most of whom were Thai Navy SEALs, had to wait for nine hours in cold and wet conditions before they were given the go-ahead to escort the boys out.
Douglas Yeo (extreme right) posing with fellow rescue divers. (Photo provided by Douglas Yeo)
While waiting, he said he could hear loud murmurs from everyone – divers as well as the boys – praying that they will be safe.
“I heard different chants and prayers from different religions. But we were all (united) in wanting the operation to be a success,” said Mr Yeo.
“We had to do everything slowly, meticulously. We moved (the boys) from chamber to chamber, step by step. We wanted no casualties,” he said.
“The muddy water we were diving in was freezing and we had zero visibility but we kept going. We had to feel our way forward by moving along a rescue line (rope) to get out,” said Mr Yeo, who runs dive school Sunfish Dives in Bintan.
Although he had 26 years of experience in rescue diving, Mr Yeo said nothing had prepared him for the technical challenges of the operation.
“There were no machines to help us. We had to do it with the equipment we had,” he explained.
‘BROTHERHOOD’ WITH FELLOW RESCUERS
Mr Yeo said that the biggest takeaway from the operation was the friendships he formed with fellow divers, who were mostly Thai SEALs, as well as volunteers from around the world.
“I don’t have a (biological) brother, but now I have so many brothers from Thailand, Argentina and the UK. Everybody accepted me like one of their own, the spirit is great,” he said.
Douglas Yeo (in blue) having a meal with fellow rescuers after the operation ended. (Photo provided by Douglas Yeo)
Now that the operation was over, he would be joining his new “brothers” to attend the wake of Saman Kunan, the former Thai Navy SEAL who died during the operation.
“We’re flying there today. I feel for him and his family, and want to pay my respects,” he said.
Composite image of rescue divers Singaporean Douglas Yeo and Thai rescue diver Joe. (Photos: Douglas Yeo)
He will be heading to the funeral with his rescue buddy, Joe, who he described as an awesome source of inspiration and guidance during the course of the operation.
“Joe took care of me. We went to the toilet together, prepared food for each other and we made it out together, mission accomplished,” he said.
“Now, we’re brothers for life.”
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