SINGAPORE - It was meant to be a recreational cave diving trip in Thailand for Singaporean Seetoh Yi Yu, and the last thing the 37-year-old expected was to be stranded for hours in a flash flood on Thursday (Aug 9).
In an ironic twist, Mr Claus Rasmussen, the Danish diver who played a major role in the Thai cave rescue last month, was with Mr Seetoh as their pick-up truck was trapped in swirling river waters.
The duo, who were helplessly perched atop the vehicle's roof, were eventually rescued by a resort owner and villagers via sampans. Dozens more also helped to haul the vehicle from the water.
Mr Seetoh posted pictures and videos of the incident on Facebook, and the story was picked up by Thai media as well as local Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News.
The public servant told The Straits Times that he and Mr Rasmussen, his diving mentor, were headed west to Rawai Beach in Phuket after a morning dive at Song Hong Cave in Nakhon Si Thammaratprovince.
They took a short cut recommended by their Global Positioning System due to the rain.
The trip, which would have taken 41/2 hours, seemed normal until they met with some waterlogged roads along the way.
"But since the water was only up to the bottom part of the wheel, we decided to just drive on," said Mr Seetoh, who arrived in Thailand on Aug 4. He picked up cave diving as a hobby in June last year.
"Suddenly, the water rose and started gushing in from the pedals," he said. "Within a minute, the car started floating and drifting to the side."
He said Mr Rasmussen tried to engage the reverse gear but could not.
Fortunately, said Mr Seetoh, the vehicle was propped against a tree, which kept it from drifting farther into the forest.
"I was worried we would be carried by the water into the forest where people would not have been able to reach us," he said.
Mr Rasmussen quickly wound down his window and escaped. But Mr Seetoh found his passenger window jammed, and he had to escape through the driver's window.
"I did not panic and just looked for a solution," he said, attributing his calmness to the cave diving training.
The water rose to about 1.5m, and the duo sought refuge on the rooftop while paging for help at about 3pm.
About an hour later, the owner of the resort they stayed in arrived and helped to secure the car to the tree so it would not drift farther.
By 7pm, villagers had sent three sampans to help get the men and their diving equipment safely to dry land.
Dozens also helped to pull on a rope to haul the vehicle out of the water.
With the help of the Thai authorities, Mr Seetoh, who is single, managed to make his 10pm flight on Friday (Aug 10) back to Singapore .
"I'm lucky to be alive," he said. "I'm very grateful to the Thai people who came to help even though I couldn't speak a word of Thai."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.