Mikko Paasi – A Knight Of The Thai Kingdom

Posted on April 15, 2019

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When Mikko Paasi got the call about a dangerous rescue operation in Thailand he was thousands of miles away in Malta.

A tech diver specialising in cave and wreck exploration he was part of a niche group of divers that were the only hope for 12 young boys and their 25-year-old coach, trapped deep inside a narrow flooding cave in northern Thailand.

Mikko caught a flight immediately back to Southeast Asia, posting an urgent message for volunteers on his Facebook page, “You must be able to: know how to breathe through a regulator and pull yourself using the guide rope again cold (-20C) and strong current, in low visibility, without panicking.”

The job was not for the faint hearted.

What unfolded in-front of the world’s media over that week was nothing short of a miracle. And it all boiled down to just one factor – the weather.

“There was a window of just five days where we knew it was now we had to go in,” he told me. A mediator was brought in to liaise with government officials and the divers to try to work out a solution that everyone agreed with. Tension ran high behind closed doors.

It was an operation with unfathomable odds stacked against the divers and the boys and one bad decision could have jeopardised the entire rescue. Thankfully it didn’t.

Today I spent just over two hours with him at his dive school Koh Tao Divers, which he has managed since 2001, talking about how his life has changed nearly a year on.

Mikko acknowledges how risky that day was, but they pulled it off. “The greatest thing was to get all the kids out, that’s why we were there,” he said looking at me intently.

Not since the Chilean miners rescue has the world watched on tenterhooks, a news story, that has had such an overwhelmingly positive outcome. It’s garnered him recognition from the king – a Knighthood – the other divers are expected to be honoured too; and international plaudits from the dive world. But he still has to do the visa run like all the other ex pats!

A book has been written about him and the rescue in Finnish and there’s a movie coming out. But financially he hasn’t benefited from the wave of international interest. He does all his talks for free, only some expenses are covered and he’s very shy in asking for sponsorship or endorsing brands. Something I tell him he seriously needs to work on.

Tomorrow he is setting off with a team of eight in search of a World War II wreck that has evaded him for a decade. She is a Japanese cargo ship that was bombed by a Dutch submarine in 1942. Lying at around 65-75m in ocean somewhere between Thailand and Malaysia. He’s going to see if the co ordinaries handed over by a fisherman might solve the mystery of where Akita Maru now lies.

I leave him to prep gear and pump oxygen. Once again another mission with risks but this time he has a better idea of what to expect.

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