The Thirteen Lives true story unfolded over the course of 17 days during the summer of 2018. On June 23, twelve young boys and their assistant coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, 25, from the Wild Boars soccer team entered Tham Luang Nang Non ('Great Cave of the Sleeping Lady'), a three-mile-long cave system located under the Doi Nang Non mountain range on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. The boys ranged in age from 11 to 17 and it was their first time visiting the cave, which closes in mid-July due to monsoon season flooding.
When their children did not come home from soccer practice, the parents began calling the head coach, Nopparat Kanthawong, who noticed about 20 missed calls when he checked his phone. Kanthawong phoned the assistant coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, but got no answer. He then began calling the boys, eventually reaching Songpol "Pone" Kanthawong, a 13-year-old player who explained that he had been picked up by his mother after practice. He informed his coach that the other boys had gone to the Tham Luang cave with Assistant Coach Chantawong. Nopparat set off for the cave and discovered the boys' bags and bikes abandoned near the entrance, as did some of the parents who had arrived. Realizing that the cave was flooding, they phoned the authorities for help. -The Washington Post
Yes. While researching the Thirteen Lives real people, we learned that Vern Unsworth, like most of the movie characters, is based on a real person. Unsworth, who is portrayed by Lewis Fitz-Gerald in the Ron Howard film, was a British-born caver who lived nearby in Thailand and had extensive knowledge of the Tham Luang cave system. Unsworth was on the scene the day after the boys got stranded inside and was the person who suggested to the Thai governor that they bring in experienced cave divers from other countries. He gave them a list of the best cave divers in the world, including fellow Brits Rick Stanton and John Volanthen (portrayed by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell in the movie).
Vern Unsworth is perhaps best known for getting into a spat with Elon Musk during the Thai cave rescue efforts, which found Musk calling him "pedo guy" on Twitter after Unsworth suggested Musk's attempted to build a minisub was a "PR stunt" with "absolutely no chance of working." Musk's insult was eluding to the fact that Unsworth's Thai girlfriend, Woranan Ratrawiphukkun, then 40, was 23 years younger than him. In September 2018, Unsworth sued Musk for defamation but lost the suit the following year when a jury found that Musk had not defamed Unsworth. Musk apologized to Unsworth, saying that the insult was made during heated rhetoric and was not a statement of fact.
While researching the Thirteen Lives true story, we learned that goalie Peerapat "Night" Sompiangjai turned 17 on June 23rd, the day the boys and their assistant coach entered the cave. He was the oldest of the 12 boys who became trapped in the cave. He was supposed to return home and celebrate his birthday with his family, who had cake and presents waiting.
Yes. By day eight, the Thailand cave rescue workers began to fear the worst and some had lost hope of finding the boys and their coach alive. "There was a very strong feeling that the children couldn't be still alive," says John Volanthen. "It just didn't seem possible. We lost hope." Volanthen says he was encouraged by the determination of the Thai Navy SEALs and later regretted believing that the boys were dead. -The Rescue
After nine days of being trapped in the cave with no contact to the outside world, the soccer team was located on July 2nd by two British rescue divers, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell in the movie. The divers, who are members of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC), captured the discovery of the boys and their soccer coach on video, and they confirmed that all 13 individuals were alive. Like in the film, the boys were somewhat let down when they realized it might be some time before they could get out of the cave (it ended up taking eight more days).
"Eat, eat, eat, tell them we are hungry," pleaded one of the boys. Stanton and Volanthen promised the boys that Thai Navy SEALs would be coming the following day, including a doctor. However, both men also understood that should conditions worsen, they may be the only ones to have ever seen the boys and their assistant coach alive in the cave. "As we went around the corner and kitted up, total silence between me and John, just a look into each other's faces, thinking, we may be the only ones that ever see them. That was a distinct possibility," says Rick Stanton. -The Rescue
While exploring the Thirteen Lives fact vs. fiction, we discovered that prior to help arriving more than nine days into their ordeal, the 12 boys and their coach spent most of the time in total darkness without any natural awareness of time. They did have cheap flashlights with them that they had gone into the cave with, but those could not provide light for long. The Thai Navy SEALs brought lights with them in addition to food and letters from the boys' parents. When they were finally rescued, they had to wear sunglasses when they were first brought out of the cave. -BBC
Prior to anyone arriving to help them, the 12 boys and their assistant soccer coach drank the water that dripped down the cave walls as opposed to the dirty groundwater. They had been forced to abandon some food supplies when they fled the rising water, but according to the BBC, they had some snacks with them that they had banded together to buy to celebrate the 17th birthday of Peerapat Sompiangjai, a fellow player who was also in the cave. Understandably, they grew extremely hungry over the course of the ten days they were without food, other than the snacks they had on them when they went in. Most of them lost an average of 2 kg (4.4 pounds). While stranded, they used the flashlight they had to search the area around them for a way out but had no success.
Thailand cave rescue workers scoured the mountain looking for other entrances into the cave, including holes that they could repel down through. Once the boys were found alive by British cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, rescue workers reasoned that there must be other openings down into the cave that were allowing air to get to the team. They also discussed drilling a new entrance down into the cave or drilling in from the side. However, the boys were located 2,600–3,300 feet below the top of the mountain. Other options included teaching the boys basic underwater diving techniques or even waiting four months until the floodwaters subsided at the end of monsoon season.
The Thirteen Lives true story reveals that Elon Musk made the news when his team of engineers began working around the clock to create what he called "a tiny, kid-size submarine" from the transfer tube of SpaceX's Falcon rocket, which was described as an "inflatable tube with airlocks." Though Richard Stanton himself thought it was a good idea and encouraged Musk to continue, it was reported to be impractical for the cave and was never used.
While analyzing the fact vs. fiction, we discovered that more than 10,000 people participated in the rescue effort. This included over 100 divers, countless other rescue workers, 2,000 soldiers, 900 police officers, and officials from roughly 100 government agencies.
Yes. As seen in the film, there were some injuries up on the mountain during the effort to divert the water from entering the Tham Luang cave system. "That was something I didn't know anything about, and with that water diversion program, people got injured," said director Ron Howard during a press conference. "The stakes were just as high for them, as for anyone functioning around the cave. I thought it was very important to convey that, as well."
In answering the question, "How accurate is Thirteen Lives?" we can confirm that the biggest tragedy happened on July 5th after former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan carried out a successful dive to place air tanks along the approximately 3.2km route to the area of the cave where the boys were stranded. Given that there were hundreds of rescue workers in the cave, this meant that more oxygen was being used up. Saman placed the tanks and started to make the return dive. While heading back to "Chamber Three," he lost consciousness due to a lack of oxygen. A fellow diver retrieved his body and tried to revive him but was unsuccessful. His death elevated fears that trying to dive the boys out could be deadly. -The Guardian
Yes. British cave diver Rick Stanton phoned Australian cave diver and anesthetist Richard Harris (portrayed by Joel Edgerton in the movie) and presented the idea of sedating the boys to dive them out. Opposed to the idea at first, Harris eventually agreed to give the boys ketamine after he arrived on site and realized it was the best option. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that induces a trance-like state, making the user feel disconnected. In high enough doses, it causes unconsciousness. It is mainly used for the induction and maintenance of anesthesia. Harris had to teach the other rescue divers how to administer the drug via a needle in the legs of the boys. This is because the initial dose would begin to wear off before the boys were out of the cave.
They also gave the boys a Xanax tablet to reduce anxiety and an injection of atropine, which has an anti-salivation side effect to help ensure that the boys don't drown in their own saliva. These drugs would hopefully make certain that the boys, none of whom had diving experience or even knew how to swim, would be relaxed and would not panic in the water. Rescue diver Rick Stanton, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in the movie, later revealed that the boys were heavily sedated and were in fact unconscious during the journey out of the cave.
"We presented it as that was the only way they were going to get out," says Rick Stanton, "and they had to be sedated to do so. Ethically, we had to tell them a day prior to the first rescue mission that we were gonna sedate them and bring them out, and they had to agree to that. They were not conscious, no. None of them remember the journey at all." -ITV News
In an interview, Richard Harris explained that they also put cable ties around the boys' wrists and told them it was to prevent water from getting into their loose-fitting wetsuits. What the boys weren't told is that once unconscious, the divers put each boy's arms behind his back and used a carabiner to clip the cable ties together. This was done in part to make the boys more streamlined so it would be easy to push them through the water as the divers got them out. It was also done so that their arms wouldn't float about and potentially get caught up in stalactites and other restrictions. Their feet were tied together as well. -ABC TV & iview
During our investigation into the Thirteen Lives true story, we discovered that it took nearly three hours to get each boy out of the cave, which is part of the reason it took three days to get all of the boys and their coach out. Another reason was that they only had four positive pressure masks. Such masks allowed leaks to go outwards instead of inwards. -The Rescue
The 12 young boys and their assistant soccer coach were trapped in the flooding cave system for approximately 17 days. Rescue attempts were eventually carried out during a period of milder rainfall when the efforts to pump some of the water out of the cave were most successful. The final four boys and their coach were saved on Tuesday, July 10th, with the others completing the journey out during the two days prior. The next monsoon downpours had been forecast to begin the following day, July 11th.
Most of the filming was done in makeshift caves on a set in Queensland, Australia. Some scenes were also shot in Thailand.