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Are the events in Thirteen Lives really taking place?

The film “Thirteen Lives” on Amazon Prime tells the story of a youth football team and their coach who are stranded in a network of caves that are flooded after a significant amount of rain. To find a way to get the boys and their young coach home alive and breathing, she focuses on the rescue operations that bring people from all over the world together. The film, directed by Ron Howard, analyzes the tragedy from every angle and shows just how cooperative rescue operations typically are. While one person or their team usually gets all the attention, Thirteen Lives shows there are other forces at play as well. You have to wonder if it’s based on a true story because it’s so realistic and compelling. If you have the same question, we have the answer for you.

Thirteen Lives: Are Real People Involved?

Yes, the true story of the wild boars and their assistant trainer who got stuck in Tham Luang Cave when it was flooded by heavy rain is the basis for the film Thirteen Lives. After training on June 23, 2018, the team and the coach decided to explore the caves again. They were aware that the caves would be flooded during the rainy season, but it was a few more days before that happened. Unfortunately, the rain started early, trapping the team and their coach in the cave where they had to stay to avoid drowning.


The parents got worried that evening when none of the boys came home and called the head coach, Nopparat Khanthavong. The boy, who left training with his mother, Songpol Kanthawong, told the head trainer about the caves where he recovered their bikes and other belongings, as well as the water blocking their path. He asked authorities for help after realizing his squad had gone into hiding. The Thai Navy Seals and villagers looked for escape routes for the boys for the first few days. However, as there was no way to contact them, a worldwide appeal for help was made by anyone with cave diving knowledge who could help rescue the team. Because of this, cave divers from all over the world gathered in Thailand.

The search for the youngsters and their young trainer required the guidance of British cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. They discovered nothing for the first few days, and as the oxygen levels in the caves dropped, so did their hopes. On the ninth day, more than a mile and a half from the mouth of the cave, they finally discovered all thirteen alive. Although everyone was relieved to learn the squad was still alive, there was no easy way to get them out safely. They were already frail after being locked in the cave for more than a week. Also, they had no cave diving experience and there was no time to lose as the rain would be heavier in a few days, making it difficult to rescue them.


At this point, Richard Harris was recruited for his knowledge of anesthesia. The boys were to be drugged and then taken outside on flexible stretchers. Harris was unsure of the viability of the strategy. Harris told National Geographic in 2019, “I thought the first two babies would drown and then we’d have to do something else.” “I don’t give them a chance to survive.” However, he was aware that there was no other option. The divers were able to safely guide the boys out of the caves after dosing the boys with a cocktail of tranquilizers, including Xanax and ketamine. Fortunately, the strategy worked and all thirteen survivors were rescued – although some rescuers lost their lives in the process.

Ron Howard, the film’s director, learned much more about the rescue during filming, although the entire operation received good media coverage and was an internationally recognized event. He realized there was much more detail in the story, especially regarding the efforts of many rescuers and volunteers. Howard discovered that this was not the story of a few heroes, with thousands of soldiers, hundreds of divers and many more volunteers keeping the operation running. “We definitely didn’t want another story about white rescuers,” co-producer Vorakorn Reutaivanichkul told the Guardian. Not just because we’ve seen it in too many movies, but also because it’s not true. The film is inspirational and shows what people do in times of need, which I think is what the world needs right now.


Not wanting to make it a documentary, Howard, who previously directed Apollo 13, which deals with similar themes of claustrophobia, an impending tragedy and a group of individuals banding together to save the day, wanted to keeping it as authentic as possible. “The goal of a documentary is to be as thorough and educational as possible. Scripted accounts of actual events must do the same, but they also make a different promise. Responding to and empathizing with these characters and their situations involves stimulating the audience’s neurological system, he told Deadline.

Heroic cave divers Rick Stanton and Jason Mallinson were invited on board “to help us understand what it’s all about at a really granular level.” Due to the lack of underwater rescue footage, they provided context for certain elements, helped the stunt doubles in difficult situations and gave the filmmakers an understanding of the difficulties they encountered in the blind tunnels.


Not only did Howard want the rescue, but he wanted an accurate representation of the local culture. Care was taken to ensure that the actors understood the dialect as the drama is set in northern Thailand. Despite the fact that I don’t understand Thai, it was crucial that the culture was accurately represented. To do that, I had to represent a bunch of extremely talented people,” he remarked. Aside from the main characters, he also wanted to make sure the story acknowledged the efforts of everyone else, from the government officials “who never took their foot off the gas,” to the local farmers who made significant sacrifices just to get back of the boys brought home safely, as well as the trainer who kept the boys calm and collected while they were trapped in the caves. It goes without saying that the film achieves its goals while telling a moving story of bravery, tenacity and collaboration that will etch itself in the hearts of viewers.