MARION, Ill. — A man at the center of the Thailand rescue operation is from Southern Illinois. Thanet Natisri runs Thai-D restaurant with his wife in Marion.
When the oven hood shuts off unexpectedly or when one of the pipes burst in his Thai restaurant, Thanet Natisri’s brain coolly clicks into gear.
“I married the right guy … ,” said Natisri’s spouse, Yada Natisri, 34. “He never panics. He never freaks out. He never shows any emotion. He is a problem solver.”
So perhaps it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that they summoned Thanet Natisri, who lives and works in downstate Marion, to help solve a problem that has kept millions, if not billions, glued to their TV and computer screens: The rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thai cave.
Thick pipes pumping out mud-brown water — that was Natisri’s work, as he coordinated the frantic effort to lower water levels in the cave network to give rescuers time to guide the boys and their coach to safety.
Besides being a restaurateur, Thanet Natisri is a ground-water expert, who returns regularly to his native Thailand to do charity work in rural areas, his wife said. The couple met during their college years in Carbondale.
On Tuesday, a jubilant Thai nation — some 9,000 miles from Marion — celebrated the rescue of all the boys, ranging in age from 11 to 17, and their coach.
“Everyone is celebrating,” Yada Natisri said. “I saw him post on Facebook and he looked so happy. …. I feel so happy for him.”
Thanet Natisri got the call while he was in Thailand. And though he has become well known for water conservation efforts there, he is not professionally trained in the subject.
“He is actually self taught,” his wife said. “He doesn’t really believe in going to school because when you go to school, they will just have you read the books and papers. Why can’t you just read it yourself?”
The husband and wife have been speaking nightly, although only briefly because he has been extraordinarily busy — managing only four hours of sleep a night, she said. And he’s often exhausted, hiking several miles each day through mountainous jungle to try to eliminate water sources leaking into the caves.
Yada Natisri said she worries about her husband, 31.
“He is a young man who has been working too much,” she said. “He has all kinds of health issues, like high blood pressure. He has high cholesterol.”
That’s because his mind has difficulty shutting down at the end of the day, she said.
“Because he is a person who will not stop thinking if his job is not done,” she said.
Originally, the plan was for Thanet Natisri to come home this week. That was before he got involved in the rescue operation. Now he’s due back July 18.
“A lot of people in Marion know what he does and they are very, very proud of him, but I really don’t want to call him a hero because everyone is a hero who is part of the mission,” his wife said.