He’s been called a hometown hero, but Erik Brown says there are plenty of others who deserve that title.
The Langley diver was part of an international team that rescued 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach who were trapped inside the Tham Luang Cave in Thailand after it was flooded by monsoon rains.
It took 18 days to find and save the boys, who are all part of the Wild Boars soccer team. One Thai Navy SEAL died in the cave while prepping for their rescue.
It was an enormous team effort, Brown said over the phone from his home in Thailand. Every person involved played a crucial role, whether they were a diver or simply dropping off donations and supplies.
“There were full food courts outside, there were volunteers giving back, there were full military bases there, there were medical stations set up and a lot of people. There were police officers outside, checks — just a massive operation,” Brown told Black Press.
“There’s so many more heroes in the story. The number one is the kids — they tested their tolerance really well there. We had the unfortunate accident with the Thai Navy SEAL, who paid the ultimate price. And then you have the UK guys who spearheaded the diving side of things. I think that title can be reserved for many more people in the situation.”
The mission, dubbed by the Thai Navy SEALS as “Operation Bring Wild Boars home,” was extremely dangerous and physically exhausting for the rescuers.
The divers first had to hike for an hour and a half, and then spent up to 10 hours a day treading in cold water, Brown explained. They lugged heavy tanks through small cracks in the cave, and faced low visibility and strong currents.
It was a dive unlike anything Brown had done before, despite having over a decade of experience as both a diver and instructor — yet he knew it was something he had to be a part of.
“Diving has given me a lot, and I’ve been in Thailand for two years now. It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime, so you have to give back a little bit,” he said.
“(We had) the expertise from some of the best cave divers in the world — I’ve never been part of something like that.
“I’ve done lots of cave diving, but obviously, even though you’re teaching or it might be a job, it’s still for fun.”
When the rescue was complete, Brown and the other divers were sent to the hospital to treat some minor scrapes and bruises. The kids were placed in quarantine and weren’t reunited with their families until yesterday (July 18).
They spent their first day with their families at a Buddhist temple where they prayed for protection from misfortunes.
Brown is already back at work at his diving school, Hydronauts Diving, in Koh Tao, Thailand, but hopes to take some extended time off soon. He has a few dive trips planned, and will travel back to North America to see his mom, Dorothy, brother, Kirk, and other family members.
“I would love to get back. Obviously, it was pretty hard on the family, and I would like to spend a little bit of time with (them) out on the farm in Langley, and get down to Colorado to see my godson,” he said.