HPD's dive team explains difficulty of rescue mission in Thailand

- An international team of 90 expert divers has been navigating a Thailand cave during the effort to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach.

Some of the equipment the divers are using is similar to the basic public safety dive rig the Houston Police Dive Team uses for rescue operations. They used the gear for rescue efforts during Hurricane Harvey and even during flooding Fourth of July week.

Still, HPD's dive instructor says he's grateful they’ve never had to undergo a rescue mission quite as dangerous and difficult as the one happening right now in Thailand.

One air tank is usually all HPD's dive team needs for a rescue mission, but in Thailand divers have had to line the 2.5-mile-long cave with the tanks, just to have enough air to complete the mission.

“I’m glad I’m not doing it,” said Officer Eric Therkildsen, an instructor on the HPD Dive Team. “The things that the guys are having to do—squeeze through the tight spaces, carry extra gear for the victims to get them out, and then other stage bottles and things like that—it’s not something you can do on just one bottle.”

Therkildsen says detachable oxygen tanks and a guide rope are key in a mission like this, as two divers are accompanying each boy on his route back to safety.

“With a cave or a tight space, and you have loose sediment on the bottom, if you kick any of that sediment up, you’ve now basically washed out your visibility and you can’t see,” said Therkildsen. “So by having a diver in front, the victim is following that diver, and that diver is leading them out. The victim’s in the middle, then with the diver in the back, you have him able to assist. If there’s any problem, he can come up and do whatever he needs to do.”

Police say some of the flooded home rescues during Hurricane Harvey were difficult, but they still don’t compare to Thailand.

“If you just think about what happens in a flood with all the furniture and debris that’s floating around inside the house, it’s kind of similar, but again you’re talking about an (open) room...so there’s a lot of room to move things out of the way," said Therkildsen. "You’re not going through tight spaces.”

Below-grade diving into a sewer pipe or culvert is one of the most dangerous missions Houston Police have to do, said Therkildsen. They only complete one or two of those missions each year,and he says one of those scenes played out last week during Fourth of July flooding.

“There was a man who said he was holding onto another man," said Therkildsen. "He got pulled by the water underneath and into the sewer pipe.”

Therkildsen says police never found that man, and no one knows who he was or if he’s okay.

Therkildsen says Houston Police do about 70 dive missions a year.

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