Who would Eric Brown like to play him in the movie?
The Langley-raised man who gained international attention as one of the divers who took part in the Thai cave rescue of a teen soccer team and their coach laughs at the question
“I don’t think I’ll have a character. I think I’ll be support worker number four,” he chuckled.
Brown has been contacted by one producer already and knows of about five companies with projects in the works to retell the incredible tale.
“They don’t really have to embellish,” he told the Langley Advance. “If they stick to what happened, they don’t have to Hollywoodize it.”
Brown was in Langley visiting family for the B.C. Day long weekend before jetting off for an interview in Montreal. He sat down with his hometown newspaper to talk about the rescue and the swirl of national and international media attention during and since the rescue.
The Advance found out Brown’s hometown connections through a Tweet from someone local who recognized that the 36-year-old had graduated from D.W. Poppy Secondary.
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When Brown learned about the soccer team trapped in the cave, he contacted a friend who was at the rescue and offered help.
He’s one of about half a dozen international divers in the area trained in deep water and cave rescue, and was invited to the scene.
The mission began June 23 when the boys didn’t return home. On June 24, rescue teams found the bags and sandals of the boys deep within the caves that started flooding.
On June 25, officials start pumping water out of the caves but had still not reached the boys.
The teen boys and their coach were trapped for days underground before the first rescuers got to them on July 2. The next day Thai Navy SEALs took food, fresh water and blankets to the boys and provided the first photos to their families and the world.
Starting Sunday, July 8, 18 divers entered the caves and 11 hours later emerged with the first of four boys. Four more were extracted Monday, July 9, with the rest safely brought out Tuesday, July 10. The world watched the rescue unfold over several days.
Divers first strung ropes through the caves to help those underwater navigate in the near zero visibility through the miles-long cave system that took hours to get through. Then crews started ferrying items in and out of the cave system. Brown explained, for example, that in addition to the two tanks he needed for himself, he would take in four to six air tanks strapped to his lower body.
“We had seen dry maps of the cave,” Brown explained. “A lot of people were pretty confident, who had been inside, the way that the contour was that [the team] could find a spot that would sustain them for enough time. How much time that really was, I’m not sure. I think it was definitely pushing it eight, nine, 10 days.”
Three pumps were trying to lower the water level in the cave system that has been flooded by a monsoon.
When the time came to start bringing out the boys, divers were stationed along the route. Brown was positioned couple hours into the cave. There were tank changes and figures moving past him in near zero visibility, a slow and time-consuming operation.
“So you’re not really sure how successful it is to be honest, you know. It was successful up to me but they still had two hours to get [out] to where the U.S. and Thai medical teams were.”
The divers along the cave system couldn’t get updates while underwater.
“That’s the hardest part,” he said. “You’ve got to wait another three hours, swim yourself back out then pop your head up.”
Those on the surface would hold up the number of fingers to show divers how many kids were out safely.
Though not a religious man, Brown said someone was watching out for those boys.
“There’s something out there. There has to be after something like this,” he commented.
Brown is not surprised that the soccer team coach, a former monk, has returned to his faith and the boys went into a Buddhist monastery after getting out of hospital to become novice monks.
Rescue diving is not new for Brown.
He is part of a group of divers trained in deep diving and more extreme situations such as cave rescue.
In the approximately half a dozen times he’s been called upon to help in such situations, it’s typically not a fairy-tale ending.
“Ninety per cent of the stuff that I go out on unfortunately on these occasions is [body recovery],” Brown said.
Brown owns Hydronauts Dive Centre on a Thai island, where he provides diving for the tourist trade. Before that he was in Egypt for seven years and travelled around a lot before that.
“You work a lot harder than you think living on a tropical island,” he joked.
Diving and owning his dive business wasn’t on the radar when he was growing up in Langley.
His mom, Dorothy, worked for Air Canada for many years, and his parents would take him and his brother, Kirk, around the world, experiences that gave him a taste for water.
“All of my friends are surfers,” but a shoulder injury took him out of that scene. Brown still wanted to stay in the water and found diving.
He learned cave diving mostly in Mexico and returns there annually.
“There’s some pretty remote places that are kind of hard to get to but also come with a nice big price tag,” he said.
There are still places in the world he plans to check out. The wrecks of the Great Lakes appeal to him.
“I’m not really a fish and coral type person. I’m more of a cave and wrecks type,” Brown explained.
Next year, he’ll likely get a chance to check out cave diving in France. A French dive shop has invited all the rescuers for a free weekend so there’s talk of making it a bit of a reunion.