MSU Social Science Alumni plays major role in Thailand Rescue

August 22, 2018 - Liz Schondelmayer

To say it was a miracle is the understatement of the century – but on Tuesday, July 10, all 12 members of the Wild Boars boys’ soccer team, along with their 23-year-old coach, were freed from Thailand’s Tham Luang caves, into which they had accidentally wandered too far.

The rescue team was up against outstanding odds, including quickly-depleting oxygen levels and the threat of the approaching Monsoon season. Early reports said the rescue could take months, but the boys were released after spending roughly two and a half weeks submerged in darkness. The boys and their coach were immediately taken to a local hospital, and all were shortly declared mentally and physically healthy.

It’s a harrowing tale with a truly happy ending, all because of the brave heroes who stood by the boys and helped to find an escape route. Among those fighting for the boys’ lives was Michigan State University alumni Pariwate Varnakovida.

Dr. Varnakovida graduated MSU with a Ph.D in Geography. He then used his skills to help the rescue team map out the boys’ escape route and understand the geographical barriers present so that the team could overcome them and get to the stranded soccer players.

“It was a big relief and we were overwhelmed with joy because we were worried about the increasing threat of rain,” said Dr. Varnakovida. “The tropical storm was coming and we were limited by time. I was monitoring the precipitation data and sending my findings to the diving team. We had to monitor the water level and alert the water management and diving teams.”

Dr. Varnakovida graduated MSU in 2010. He is now working as a professor at the King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi.