Full face mask plays big role in Thailand rescue

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jul 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-11 01:14:30-04

THAILAND (KGTV) --It took a worldwide collaboration to rescue 12 boys and their coach trapped in a Thailand cave. A key piece of the puzzle was the equipment used to bring those kids safely to daylight. Team 10 Investigator Adam Racusin explains how specialized masks made all the difference.

RELATED: Thai cave rescue: All 12 boys, soccer coach freed from cave

Navy seals from around the world order their equipment from Ocean Enterprises - a company based in San Diego. 

On Tuesday the company CEO showed us how the right masks played a critical role in helping the untrained children navigate a dangerous, roughly 2.5 mile journey. 

"Here's the problem, the kids are 12-years-old," said Werner Kurn. "Most of them didn't swim and they certainly didn't scuba dive. So how do you bring them out?"
Thousands of miles from the treacherous underground trek - Kurn walked us through how the experts were able to answer that question.

The answer involved a very specialized piece of equipment - custom made for a smaller individual.
"I think the full-faced mask was an instrumental reason for saving these people's lives because they could literally stay underwater for a while and laugh and talk and be distracted from the danger they're going through," he said. 

Kurn says traditional scuba equipment requires a certain level of training - something hard to achieve in a cold, dark cave.
"There (are) certain things that can go wrong with (traditional equipment)," Kurn said. "The mask can flood from the strong current - if i turn my head the water comes in on the side or the regulator comes out now how do I put it back in. We learn all that in our class but it takes hours to learn all that."
The idea that something could go wrong could easily lead to anxiety and panic. Kurn believes the full-faced approach offered the children a sense of comfort.
"The full-faced mask has five straps on the back and it holds you. By doing so, the kids could communicate, they could breath, they could see and nothing would change that," Kurn said. "It wouldn't come off because of the way it is tied down. It's very similar to a fireman's mask."
With the boys safely out of the situation, Kurn called the rescue effort incredible.
"A SEAL team member in the front, a SEAL team member in the back and then the kid in the middle and they made it," Kurn said. "It's fabulous."
According to reports, rescuers needed to hold the boys' oxygen tanks in front of them as they swam through submerged holes - a true heroic rescue effort.