We recently shared a story of the cave rescue of a soccer team in Thailand and the role Haskel’s high-pressure equipment played. Today, we're taking a deeper look into how the quick thinking of rescuers, suppliers and the Haskel product support team made that rescue possible.
Around mid-day on July 7, 2018, just before the main egress part of the ‘Muu Paa’ rescue mission began, our company received a concerned phone call for repair assistance from the dive gases technical support team leader at Tham Luang Cave, Chiang Rai, Thailand. The reason for the phone call? All oxygen booster pumps brought by cave divers, including a manually pumped booster, had failed. The primary unit being used – the manual pump – had blown both its seals and burst the safety disk, needing RTU repair.
The heavy, continuous workload was just too much for the boosters being used. Attempts at sourcing high-pressure oxygen locally in Chiang Rai had also failed. The diving teams required 232bars/3350psi oxygen fills.
I suggested that they use a heavy duty air-operated Haskel pumping unit. We had four in stock and had just received a rebuilt standalone Haskel unit from American Airworks in the U.S. I had already run this unit and it proved to be working efficiently.
Unfortunately, the tech support team at Tham Luang did not have a suitable high-volume LP air source to drive the Haskel booster pump. They did have hundreds of scuba tanks of air. After learning this, I designed a suitable LP air source from a high performance scuba regulator first stage used by tech divers and connected it to some ¾ inch LP hose that would be more than capable of providing the high flow of 150psi air that the Haskel pump would need if driven to its limits.
With the worry that heavy rains would soon flood the cave and further endanger everyone inside, no time could be wasted in delivering the pump to Chiang Rai. Delivering it by car could easily have taken a full day from where we are located. Instead, a military charter flight was arranged. I delivered the Haskel oxygen booster pump myself around 8pm in the evening on July 7 – the same day they called. The delivery was made to an awaiting aircraft on the apron of Utapao Air Force Base. The charter flight had its engines started and was prepping for flight before I left the apron. The booster pump arrived in Chiang Rai just a few hours later.
The pump was put to work immediately on arrival at Tham Luang. Rescuers operated the gas booster continuously for 24 hours a day for the next three days as the operation to bring the boys out of the cave was completed. The pump was directly responsible for providing all the essential high-pressure oxygen tanks used for the egress of the Muu Paa soccer team.
An unanticipated failure of all water pumps together with more heavy rain caused the cave to suddenly flood just after the last boy was extracted from the cave – exacerbating the urgency of the rescue mission. In the end, hours mattered. All remaining personnel left in the cave rushed to leave it immediately. All equipment that had been brought into the cave to assist in the rescue and support the various staging areas was left behind. Recovery of the equipment will be done once the cave dries out again at the end of the rainy season, in a few months’ time.
The Haskel pump our small company lent the team was delivered back to us a few days after the rescue operation completed. Many small companies, military and civilian specialists, and thousands of individuals from all over Thailand and the world volunteered their time and assets free of charge to help with this rescue effort. It is a massive relief that, despite doubts, the rescue of the soccer team was successful and all made it out of the cave alive.
As I checked our Haskel pump on return from the rescue teams, I noticed the pump had a manufacturing date of 10/80 – October 1980. This means the only remaining working oxygen pump supporting the Muu Paa rescue operation was a 38 year old secondhand Haskel oxygen gas booster, rebuilt by Veterans at American Airworks – and it never missed a beat.
Haskel is grateful to Easytek Engineering, American Airworks, and all of the rescuers involved in this heroic mission.
If you would like to find a distributor to support your high-pressure equipment needs, use our locator to see who works near you: