Is the Thai Cave Rescue series based on a true story?

Are the events real or imagined?

Members of a youth soccer team trapped in a cave in Netflix's Thai Cave Rescue
(Image credit: Netflix/Future)

It took nine days to locate the trapped souls and another eight to rescue them all - but did it really happen? 

The Thai Cave Rescue is causing a tidal wave of intrigue surrounding the story of a football team trapped in a cave - and the people who laid their lives on the line to rescue them. When Thai youth football team the Wild Boars were caving with their assistant coach, unexpected monsoon rain saw water levels inside the caves rise, trapping them in the Tham Luang Cave. With food and resources running low, a global rescue effort to free them ensued. Those watching the incredible story unfold are asking if events are based on a true story - read on to find out. 

Also keeping tensions high on screen is Alison Janney in a new Netflix thriller. The ambiguous ending has left viewers asking for the Lou ending explained, and wondering if there will be a sequel. On ITV, Lauren Lyle is getting rave reviews as detective Karen Pirie which is based on some well known source material. Stephen Moffat’s Inside Man is also finally here after a huge build up, and it’s every bit as exciting as you’d expect.

Is the Thai Cave Rescue series based on a true story?

Yes, Thai Cave Rescue is based on the true story of the rescue of 12 Thai boys from youth soccer team the Wild Boars and their coach from the Tham Luang Cave, between June 23 and July 10, 2018.

When their football  practice ended on Saturday 23 June, 2018, the 12 members of Wild Boars decided to go cave exploring with assistant coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong. The boys were aged between 11 and 16 at the time, and Chanthawong 25. The cave formed part of a complex beneath the Doi Nang Non mountain range, and was known to flood regularly during the rainy season - the boys and their coach missed the warning sign not to enter the caves, situated at the entrance. 

When the team failed to return from their trip, an alarm was raised at 7pm. The team’s head coach approached the caves to find the boys’ belongings strewn around the cave entrance, and pathways covered in water. Thai Navy Seal divers were informed of what had happened, and local British diver Vern Unsworth was brought on board the rescue team, as he was very familiar with the caves. At this time, those experts pronounced the water to be too murky to proceed with any rescue attempt. 

An international appeal for rescue help ensued, resulting in the US Air Force, Australian Specialist Response Group, and divers from the Beijing Peaceland Foundation offering help for the mission. British divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen began rescue attempts, but made little progress due to continuing rainfall and strong currents in the caves. The boys and their coach were found on July 2, following a trip that took 6 hours to complete. It took another week before the divers were able to begin removing the trapped from the cave. 

On July 8, 18 rescue divers arrived at the cave, where one diver was assigned one child to bring back. It was decided the boys should be anaesthetised to prevent panic on the long journey out of the caves, preventing danger to themselves and their assigned diver. The mission ended on July 10 after the trapped souls had spent 18 days in the cave. A total of 10,000 people were involved in the rescue, and over a billion litres of water was pumped from the caves to assist the mission.

Diver reaches out to trapped boy in Thai Cave Rescue

(Image credit: Netflix)

Did all 13 survive?

Yes, all 12 boys and their coach survived the rescue. When it was decided that they’d be anaesthetised, their parents were not informed due to the experimental nature of the intervention, and that expert anaesthetists told diving crews to expect casualties. 

According to USA Today, selecting which drugs and how much to use was a huge challenge in itself. Too much and they could enter respiratory failure, and too little meant they could wake up during the journey and panic - which could result in drowning. They were given tranquilisers to calm them, and a drug to dry up the saliva secretions to prevent choking on their saliva. The actual anaesthetic was ketamine, which the divers had to re-administer several times throughout the journey as one dose would only keep the boys unconscious for 1 -2 hours. 

Just days after the boys and their coach were rescued, monsoon rains completely submerged the cave for eight months. Rain was falling during the rescue, but crews were still able to pursue the mission. However, just days afterwards going back into the caves would have been impossible, and everybody trapped would most certainly have died. 

Two divers featured in Netflix's Thai Cave Rescue

(Image credit: Netflix)

Who were the Thai rescue divers?

Four Thai Navy Seals led by Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yuukongkaew were part of the mission, along with Dr Pak Loharnshoon. British divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton were also instrumental

Other divers include Richard Harris, Saman Gunan, Ben Reymenants, Claus Rasmussen, Mikko Paasi, Ivan Karadzic, and Eric Brown. According to the BBC,  John Volanthen, Richard Stanton, and British caving expert Robert Harper were specifically called upon by Thai authorities to offer their expertise on the mission. Dr Richard Harris from Australia had decades of diving experience. He examined the boys and greenlit the mission to begin.  

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Petty Officer Saman Gunan had retired from the Thai navy, and volunteered his services for the rescue. Belgian Ben Reymenants was running a dive shop in Phuket, and diving company Blue Label Diving. When he heard about the incident, he volunteered to help along with Claus Rasmussen who worked as an instructor at Reymenants' diving school.  

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Finnish Mikko Paasi was running a diving centre on the island of Koh Tao. He was a specialist in technical diving, including wreck and cave diving. Danish Ivan Karadzic, was a friend of Mikko Paasi, and they were running the diving centre together. Canadian Erik Brown was a technical diving instructor from Vancouver, running the Team Blue Immersion technical diving school in Egypt. He spent a total of 63 hours inside the Tham Luang caves during the rescue mission.

Rescuers plan the rescue mission in Thai Cave Rescue

(Image credit: Netflix)

How many rescuers died in Thai Cave Rescue?

Two rescuers died during the Thai cave rescue. Saman Gunan died during the rescue itself, and in 2019, rescue diver Beirut Pakbara died of a blood infection contracted during the operation.  

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A highly trained diver, Saman Gunan had been delivering oxygen supplies to those trapped. He ran out of oxygen himself on the way back through the caves, and lost consciousness. His diving partner tried to revive him but was unable, and his body had to be retrieved from the cave. 

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Thai Navy SEAL Beirut Pakbara spent a year receiving treatment for the infection he contracted during the rescue. His condition worsened when the infection entered his bloodstream and he sadly passed away. 

Is the Thai Cave Rescue on Netflix? 

The Thai Cave Rescue was released on Netflix on September 22, 2022. The limited series consists of 6 episodes, 60 minutes in length. All episodes are available to watch concurrently.

To view the series, a Netflix subscription will be required. There are 3 Netflix packages available for those wanting to subscribe. The cheapest package costs £6.99 per month, and this basic starting price includes unlimited access to the Netflix catalogue. With this, subscribers can only stream from one device at a time. 

At £10.99 per month, the standard package also includes the entire Netflix catalogue. However, simultaneous streaming from 2 devices is allowed. This package also has shows in HD, and allows downloads to mobile devices. The final premium package costs £15.99 per month, and features bonuses including allowing streaming across 4 devices, and contains most of the catalogue in Ultra HD. 

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Lucy Wigley
TV writer - contributing

Lucy is a multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ experience writing about entertainment, parenting and family life. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and telling you why you should watch them.