‘Thirteen Lives’ Ending, Explained: How Were The 12 Boys And Their Coach Trapped Inside The Cave Rescued?


The adventure drama film “Thirteen Lives” is a spectacular fictional retelling of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue operation that unfolded in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province. When a local football team of 12 young boys and their coach were trapped dangerously inside a cave amidst a tremendous monsoon downpour, expert cave divers from all over the world attempted to help. Among them were two British divers, John Volanthen and Richard Stanton, and the film primarily focuses on their efforts. Although “Thirteen Lives” is undoubtedly a shorter, abridged sort of telling of the real incidents, it provides a great watching experience with cinematography, visuals, and storytelling apt for the content.

Spoilers Ahead

‘Thirteen Lives’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

The film begins with a junior football team’s usual day of fun-filled practice as they play a match among themselves and then excitedly prepare for one of their teammates’ birthdays, whose family is also throwing a party that evening. But before heading to the party, though, the boys decide to ride their cycles over to the local Tham Luang cave and spend some time there, which really is a usual occurrence for them. The team’s coach, who is more like an elder brother to the boys, also accompanies them, and the only exception is a boy who goes over to help his father with work instead. The team reaches the cave’s entrance and pays their respects to the local deity, Princess Nang Non, before entering and taking their usual route inside. While the Tham Luang cave was already known for getting dangerously flooded every monsoon, the seasonal rainfall was still a few days away as it was only June, and rain usually started around July. However, dark clouds gathered very quickly, and rain began to fall, but little did anyone imagine that it would only get worse from here on. That evening, when the boys still had not arrived at the birthday party, their parents, who had all gathered for the party too, got concerned and finally got word that their sons had entered the cave in the afternoon. They already realize how scary the situation is, as the rain comes down very hard now, and rushing to the caves, they are made aware that local authorities have been alerted. The local governor, who was only supposed to remain in office for that week, gets involved, and within that very night, the Thai Navy Seal arrives to begin a rescue mission. But before any rescue operation can be thought of, the boys need to be located first, as there remains no sign of how deep inside they are, or if they are even alive. In their very first attempt, the professionally trained and experienced Navy Seals hurt themselves badly, making clear the very growing danger of the situation. Five days pass like this, with the parents now desperate to get any news of their kids, and international help now starts to pour in to try and ease their anguish. As part of the UK’s assistance, two expert cave divers, John Volanthen and Richard Stanton, visit Thailand and try to make use of their expertise to find the missing children.

How Are The Children Found And Then A Rescue Operation Conducted?

The two volunteers go down into the flooded caves and follow the trail of cables that the Navy Seal divers had made before them, as it is by now very easy to be swept away by the current underwater, and therefore, the divers approach with a tight grasp over the cables. However, despite their experience, John and Richard cannot go past the spot the Seals had reached, which is some 1600 meters from the cave’s entrance. While on their way out, they rescue a pump operator who was suddenly swept away by the rising waters and manage to bring him to safety. By now, the government authorities had realized that as much water needed to be pumped out of the caves as possible, with the rain still falling strongly. Together with the authorities, a water engineer volunteered to go to the place, and together with the local villagers, he started to make sure that no more water entered the cave. The cave’s geographical location was towards the bottom of the surrounding hills, which meant that all the water falling down the slopes of the hills was entering the cave through numerous small sinkholes spread across the forest that was over the cave. With the villagers, the engineer now started diverting the flow of water from these sinkholes and also tried building dams for these holes. This water instead had to be diverted over the open paddy fields. That would mean huge financial losses for the farmers, but the villagers immediately agreed to make any and every effort to ensure the children’s safety. Back inside the cave, John and Richard are allowed to resume their diving efforts only when the rain has stopped, some seven days after the team went missing. Finally, around the tenth day, when the two divers made their way deeper into the cave, carrying with them spools of wire to mark their route, they finally found the entire football team and their coach on an elevated area, all alive and healthy. Although both sides are elated to see each other, the divers quickly realize the tremendous and almost impossible nature of the rescue operation that might be needed, as the chamber where the kids had taken shelter was roughly a 6-hour-long dive away from the cave’s entrance.

Before leaving the place, John and Richard took videos of the children to show that they were alive and doing well, and despite their not wanting too many people outside to see it, news of this discovery spread quicker than wildfire. The families, media, and everyone else gathered near the cave’s entrance, and the entire region now started heralding the two divers as absolute heroes, even though they mostly wanted to avoid this attention. While they had found the football team to be alive, the thought of a rescue operation still worried them to the point that Richard actually tells his friend how perhaps finding the dead bodies of the kids would have been easier. The Thai Seals now go into the cave to the chamber where the children are, following the cables John and Richard had left behind, and a few of them stay back with the children to provide them with support and also ensure their safety and well-being. The seals now carried out expeditions into the cave to bring food to the children and also lay down oxygen cylinders and other necessary equipment along the path that would be needed during the rescue. It was during one such mission that a retired Thai Navy Seal official, who was volunteering, named Saman Kunan, got stuck among the sharp stalagmite formations and ultimately lost his life when his own oxygen cylinder got detached. On the government side of things, many high-profile ministers and officials visited the site, but the major pressure was still on the shoulders of the local governor, who had to take all the major decisions. When asked about the rescue operation, John and Richard clearly told the authorities how impossible it was to make the young children swim for six hours underwater. The governor, though, had to promise all the parents and awaiting people that the team would soon be rescued, which inadvertently built more pressure on everyone involved.

Although it was initially planned that authorities would wait till a significant amount of water was pumped out of the cave before a rescue mission would be attempted, this idea did not turn out to be viable at all since most of the cave was still underwater. Along with this, weather predictions of severe heavy rainfall within a few days were out, making it clear that the boys needed to be brought out as soon as possible. As Richard and John called upon the help of a few of their cave-diving friends from across the world, Richard came up with an idea to try out. Despite sounding absolutely crazy, he thought of calling upon their friend Richard Harris from Australia, whose professional expertise happened to be as an anesthetist. With Harris’ deft skill, they thought of anesthetizing the young boys and then carrying them out merely as packages. This would mean that the boys would not have to swim for such a long duration, nor was there any chance of them panicking underwater and causing harm to themselves. When the divers presented this plan of theirs to the governor, he too agreed to take this chance, for this was the only conceivable method of rescuing the children. Finally, the team of expert divers laid out their plan—all four of them would go to the boys’ location and then anesthetize them with ketamine one by one, and then each would individually carry a child’s body to safety while administering more anesthetic doses on the way. The Thai Navy Seals would also be present towards the initial portions of the cave, from where they would take charge and carry the boys to the entrance. On the first day of their attempt, the team carried out this plan with four of the boys, still not sure whether it would actually work. But once they saw that it was indeed working, and when the first boy could indeed be taken out safely, the divers knew that they needed to carry on doing this.

‘Thirteen Lives’ Ending Explained: What Was The Aftermath Of The Incident?

Although the divers could rescue just four of the boys during their first attempt, they needed to stop their efforts in order to replenish supplies. A specific issue was also faced by them when the youngest of the boys could not get a diving mask fitted on his relatively small face, and a special smaller one needed to be brought in from Bangkok. On the final day, when four of the survivors still remained trapped inside the cave, the rain began to fall again, and it was now feared that the monsoons had properly set in, meaning that it would relentlessly rain for a number of days at a stretch. With the urgency of rescuing the remaining boys and their coach, the divers rushed off to complete the job and, despite a number of hurdles, ultimately overcame them all to rescue all of them and save all of the thirteen lives. The Navy Seals also managed to exit the cave safely just as the waters had started to dangerously rise again. Throughout the three days of the rescue operation, the area right outside the cave was cleared of any reporters and parents, as it was still not certain that everyone could be rescued alive. As each boy was brought out, big umbrellas were used to keep their identities and health conditions hidden from the people, as the fact that anesthetics were used on the boys was not known to anyone. Administering anesthetics did have risks as well, as the rescuers themselves say, because they needed to give the kids the exact right amounts of dosage. The children were all finally reunited with their parents in the hospital ward, where they were treated, and the whole world rejoiced in the success of the rescue mission.

Despite providing a comparatively in-depth idea about all that was happening during the incident, “Thirteen Lives” undoubtedly presents things from just one side and perspective, which is that of the white men from the west, who become saviors of the day. However, the film also presents Thai native characters with fairly good importance, and the one-sided perspective really does not seem like too much of a drawback to the film. Moreover, the cinematography and sound design make it very easy to imagine oneself in the situation, as a significant portion of its 150-minute runtime is actually spent inside the cave and underwater. The metal clanking of the helmets and oxygen cylinders brushing along the sharp rocks of the narrow caverns is significantly noticeable, and this too adds to the film’s effect. What perhaps could have been better is had the film also put stress on the survivors as well. Other than knowing that the boys survived inside the cave, mostly meditating and helping each other out, as their coach happened to be a former monk, nothing else is presented about how the young children survived almost ten days without any food, which in itself is almost miraculous. Other than this, there is perhaps little to complain about in “Thirteen Lives,” and the film is a definite easy recommendation. The bigger the screen you can get hold of to watch it on, the better and grander your experience will be!

“Thirteen Lives” is a 2022 Drama Biopic film directed by Ron Howard.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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