The sole Filipino to be part of Thai cave rescue of soccer team - The Daily Sentry

Saturday, July 7, 2018



The sole Filipino to be part of Thai cave rescue of soccer team



In photo, the 12 boys save at the soccer team trapped in the cave in Thailand and Christoffer John “Cedjie” Aquino. Images combined credit to Thai NavySEAL screenshot and Facebook Cedjie Takumi Aquino
Several rescuers and divers from Thai Navy, UK, US, and Australia had set out to save a soccer team of 12 boys aged 11 to 16 along with their assistant coach who were trapped in a flooded underground cave in Northern Thailand since June 23.

However, none could navigate through the cavern’s dangerous and slippery entrance, and one rescuer, Samarn Poonan, a former member of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit, died on Thursday night after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, as detailed by the SEAL commander.

With the rising desperation and worsening conditions, Christoffer John “Cedjie” Aquino, a teacher and skilled rock climber who’s been living in Thailand for 17 years, was called in by local authorities in Thailand to climb at least 800 meters.

 “I was called in to help as the cave entrance attempt was becoming quite a challenge due to rising water level. People were becoming restless and angry at the slow progress. So they sought another way in,” Cedjie said. 


Rescue effort to save the soccer team trapped inside the cave in Thailand. Image credit to www.abcnews.go.com
This time, instead of going in through the cave's entrance to extract the boys, rescuers were to look for possible holes above and around the 10-kilometer cave system that stretches into a mountain.

There, he would become the lone Filipino in a team of international rock climbers who also volunteered.

Cedjie sought the help of Filipino cave experts that time to help in the rescue mission.


Freedom Team - Tham Luang Cave Search and Rescue. Image credit to Facebook Cedjie Takumi Aquino
The Filipino team was quick in responding and converging the team, however no one could quickly fly them out to Thailand as everyone was focused on the rescue.

“I was calling different Thai offices asking for help, to fly our boys in. But it ended in frustration as none could help. They were all busy with the cave incident and had no direct line,” Cedjie narrated.

Their rescue mission started early morning of June 29, the 7th day since the football squad got trapped.

Soon as they got to the rescue site, “Camp Geo,” the name of Cedjie’s team composed of rock climbers, cave experts and paramedics from countries like Russia, United States, Cameroon, and Thailand set out to begin the climb.

“Was there a trail? No. Is climbing limestone in wet conditions difficult? Fuck yeah! Is climbing limestone on trad gear in wet conditions more challenging? Fucking suicide!", Cedjie said later on during an interview.

Challenged with dense vegetation and heavy rain, Camp Geo persisted in the climb, searching every nook and cranny, looking for holes or any other possible passageways to extract the whole team. 


They crawled on tight spaces, sticking their hands under rocks and holes, not minding the “potential dangers of being bitten or stung by poisonous creatures.” 

On July 2, after 9 days, two British rescuers finally reached the boys sitting on an elevated mound in a cavern as waters continued to rise.
After the successful rescue, Cedjie is glad to report that his life is back to usual.

He has gone back to teaching his students after 6 tiring days of staying in Chiang Rai for the rescue mission. He barely had any sleep but he went straight back to what he called his primary duty in the Land of Smiles. 

This lone Filipino climber doesn’t view himself as some hero.


Christoffer John “Cedjie” Aquino. Image credit to Facebook
Christoffer John “Cedjie” Aquino. Image credit to Facebook
Instead, he calls himself a mere nobody who was at the right place at the right time in a really bad situation.

Cedjie won the admiration of his fellowmen for his bravery and skill, although this rock climbing teach found it stressful to “single-handedly represent an entire country” in a dramatic rescue mission that has drawn global attention. 

 “The one good thing about all this, you get to see the good in humanity. You meet people whose intentions are pure, dedicated to just helping. We are all here because we know we can do something,” he said.



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