Like much of the world, Patrick Decker has been engrossed in the saga of 12 boys and their soccer coach who became trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. Unlike most, Decker is in a position to do something about it.
As chief executive officer of Xylem Inc., one of the world’s top water technology firms, Decker spent much of last week reaching out to Thai officials and mobilizing his company of 17,000 employees to help. Decker said he sent four engineers to the cave site, and they assisted rescuers by boosting pumping power 40 percent. Thai Navy SEALs and international cave diving experts extracted eight boys over Sunday and Monday.
“When we heard the boys were found and began to see the visual imagery on TV of the water conditions and what it looked like in the cave, and I saw these hoses with water pouring out of them, I thought, ‘We need to get somebody there to be sure they’re getting maximum water out of these pumps,'” Decker said in an interview in Singapore.
The boys and their coach became trapped in the cave system in the country’s north about two weeks ago. After they were located deep in the cavern, Decker reached out to one of the officials leading rescue efforts and got authorization to dispatch his team.
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Xylem, which has a market capitalization of about $12 billion, has previously helped in rescue operations after mine collapses in Pennsylvania and Chile. Decker, whose wife is Thai, said the current rescue might be the most complicated, involving tight spaces, low oxygen levels and limited availability of electricity.
Decker sent two employees from Thailand and Singapore to the cave Friday morning for an initial assessment and flew in experts from the U.S. and U.K., who arrived Saturday. They were able to make recommendations on things like changing cabling layout and adjusting the flow of hoses to improve pumping power.
The perilous rescue operation is set to continue Tuesday after a pause. Xylem still has three employees on site and is air-lifting in new equipment that might be able to boost pumping capacity if there are still people left in the cave when they arrive.
“We’re going to keep people on site until they get everyone out, the boys, the coach and the divers,” Decker said.
Help has come from around the world. Billionaire Elon Musk dispatched a team of engineers, and President Donald Trump said Sunday the U.S. is working very closely with Thailand’s military government on the rescue.
The rescue team is scrambling to extract all of those stranded before fresh rains complicate the task or cut off access by increasing flooding in the cave. The journey out is thought to include treacherous submerged stretches requiring scuba gear. A retired Thai Navy SEAL assisting with the operation died Friday after running out of oxygen, underlining the danger of the rescue.