Data from half a world away helps rescue stranded Thai football team

World Today

The Thai rescue was accomplished with the help of sophisticated mapping data that gave searchers a better understanding of the cave’s layout and the terrain they were dealing with.

The information was provided by a company that’s headquartered in the U.S. state of Colorado.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

The story of the 12 Thai football players and their coach might not have turned out the way it did, had it not been for a firm based half a world away.

“We’re one of the smallest, coolest companies that most people have never heard of,” Intermap Technologies C.E.O. Patrick Blott said.

Intermap Technologies has provided geospatial intelligence to customers for three decades now.  It got a call from the Thai Department of National Parks about some missing kids on June 27.

“Nobody had made contact, nobody knew where they were. They’d been in there for three days. It was a very scary situation,” Blott said.

Intermap combines data from a variety of platforms, like satellites, planes, drones and different wavelengths to produce super high-resolution three-dimensional maps that are used during disasters and for lots of other applications.

 “Being able to derive elevations from something that’s flat is the trick,” Intermap Executive Vice President of Commercial Solutions, Ivan Maddox said.

Many of us rely on GPS technology to find the nearest coffee shop. Intermap’s 3-D elevation data enhances the terrain maps that many of these units are now able to provide.

“It’s not much different really. It’s just a different environment with different stakes obviously, and different input datas needed. Instead of looking for a coffee shop, you’re trying to figure out the best way to rescue some young kids that are buried under a mountain,” Maddox said.

In this case, within just three hours, data from 20 sensors created a one-meter resolution map that gave rescuers the situational awareness they needed to drill routes to supply food and oxygen to the trapped team and gauge water flow in the Thai cave.

“They’re the ones on the ground. They’re going in the cave, they’re taking the risk, they’re deciding whether to go left or right. They’re deciding if they’ve got to widen the cave or if they’ve got to drill a hole. If you’re going to drill, it makes a big difference if you’re two or three feet off. You can do more harm than good, so this kind of stuff is critical,” Blott said.

Intermap is already well-established in Asia. It sent no personnel directly to the cave. It didn’t have to.

“It’s just heartbreaking seeing all those kids stuck and “ Just knowing that we can even just touch it, put our finger on it and make a little bit of a difference is just amazing,” Intermap Managing Director for U.S. sales, Catherine Stinson said.

“I’ve got a young family at home. I understand what those families must have been going through. Gut-wrenching to imagine yourself in their place,” Blott said.

Maps have long helped humans mitigate risk and deal with the unknown.

And they may have made a highly complex rescue operation in Thailand a little more manageable.