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people and community ‘thirteen lives’ rescue mission brought to big screen

2 min read | september 29, 2022

The Chevron team, together with other volunteers, unfold a water drainage pipeline.

It’s a story that sounds improbable anywhere other than Hollywood. A junior soccer team and their coach set out exploring in a mountain cave when they’re suddenly trapped inside by flash flooding. Stranded for more than two weeks, the 12 boys and their coach are finally saved in a daring rescue mission.

That incredible story is based on the Tham Luang Nang Non cave rescue in 2018. In the recently released feature length film directed by Ron Howard, “Thirteen Lives’ chronicles the heroic efforts in northern Thailand that captivated the world.

answering the call

While “Thirteen Lives” dramatizes the events of the rescue with a handful of actors, the real-life efforts involved the work and ingenuity of hundreds of people from a host of organizations, public and private, including Chevron Thailand.

Chevron Petrophysicist Parinya Pholbud served as the team lead for dozens of Chevron employees and contractors at the cave site. That team of experts included geologists, engineers, drilling operations advisors along with three Chevron employees who were formerly Thai Navy SEALs. These former Navy SEALs lent intelligence to the mission that aided the active duty Thai Navy SEAL team performing the rescue. 

the mission

The daunting challenge rescuers faced was how to keep the relentless rain waters—late June and early July is peak rainy season in northern Thailand—from completely flooding the cave where the group was trapped.

“It was the rainy season, and it was always raining every day until the SEAL team could not enter or go (any) further into the cave,” Pholdbud recalled.

thinking outside the box

Redirecting the water from flowing into the cave to the outside was a critical step rescuers had yet to consider. 

“Many people did not understand and had never seen it before, because they were thinking everyone has to work inside the cave,” Pholbud said.  

“But actually, this was about finding another way to solve the problem of how to drain the water out. There was no need to remain in front of the cave,” he recalls. “We did something else, and it worked.”

The Chevron team was among the group that designed a piping system that would re-route the rainwater coming down the mountain. 

“Luckily, I have experience with carbonate rock from working in the Middle East and understand the geology of the component a little bit,” said Pholbud.  

The next phase of Chevron’s involvement was planning a drilling operation to create an escape tunnel in the mountain. 

hollywood ending

The efforts of the Chevron team, and those it worked with, in helping to save the 13 lives was emblematic of the company’s culture and mission. 

“Everything we had to work on the mountain, to prepare the pipe, to carrying the pipe, everything required human energy by the Chevron Way,” he said. 

Human energy at its best gave the riveting rescue a Hollywood ending.

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