The Harrowing True Story of the Cave Rescue That Inspired "Thirteen Lives"

The movie "Thirteen Lives" is about a group of 12 boys and their soccer coach who find themselves trapped deep in a network of caves after flooding blocks their way out. The group is eventually rescued by a team of divers who undertake the dangerous journey to find and rescue them.

The film's plot is based on a real event that happened not too long ago. On June 23, 2018, 12 boys between the ages of 11 and 16 and their assistant coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, went missing while exploring Tham Luang Nang Non, a complex of caves stretching between Thailand and Myanmar. They planned to celebrate a player's birthday in the caves, which they often explored, but the team found themselves stranded instead when a torrential rainstorm led to a flood that blocked their exit.

During their time in the cave, the team survived by drinking the water dripping down the walls and by digging a hole where they all huddled together to keep warm. Their coach, also a monk, taught them meditation techniques to help them keep calm as they waited to be rescued.

After their bikes and bags were found near the cave's entrance, Thai Navy SEALs and a British diver who lived in the area conducted a preliminary search of the cave, concluding the waters were too murky for them to move forward. An international call for help brought in rescue divers from the US Air Force, the Australian Specialist Response Group, and the Beijing Peaceland Foundation, among others. After several failed rescue attempts, British Cave Rescue Council divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen finally found the boys on July 2, about four kilometers from the mouth of the cave.

That was only the start of the journey, which required divers to swim against strong currents, sometimes in channels only three feet wide. Some of the boys did not know how to swim, and even if they did, the mission was treacherous even for expert divers. Eventually, 18 divers were sent in, armed with a mixture of ketamine, Xanax, and a drug called atropine designed to knock the boys unconscious to prevent them from panicking during the dangerous journey out. The divers carefully carried each of the boys through the labyrinthine tunnels, not knowing whether their passengers were alive. "If a mask's seal broke from being knocked around in those cramped tunnels, it might start to flood with water," wrote Matt Gutman, author of the 2018 book "The Boys in the Cave." "The divers likely would not notice it as they navigated the darkened exit route. There would be no way to know whether they were towing a sedated kid who was dead to the world or a kid who was actually dead."

Miraculously, on July 10, after 18 days in the cave, the boys all made it out alive thanks to the efforts of the divers and the thousands of others who volunteered and organized, such as local Thai people who worked to divert rising waters in the caves onto rice paddies. Unfortunately, one cave diver, former Thai Navy officer Saman Gunan, died while on his way out of the cave due to a lack of oxygen. Another diver died a year and a half later after an infection he contracted during the rescue spread to his blood.

The rescue mission was a massive international effort, requiring pumping more than a billion liters of water out of the cave and coordinating tens of thousands of people. It understandably made international headlines, and "Thirteen Lives" is one of many onscreen adaptions of the event so far, which include the Thai drama "The Cave" and the documentary "The Rescue." Netflix will also be releasing a six-episode drama called "Thai Cave Rescue" in September.

"Thirteen Lives" will be released on Prime Video on Aug. 5.