CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – All 12 boys and their soccer coach have been successfully rescued from the flooded Thai cave where they had been trapped deep inside for over a fortnight.
A Thai navy SEAL unit confirmed the fantastic news on their Facebook page on Tuesday 10 July. The announcement means a successful end to a perilous mission which had gripped the world.
The “Wild Boars” soccer team and their coach were trapped on 23 June while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, after soccer practice. Unfortunately for them, a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.
British divers found the 13 last Monday (2 July) – they were hungry and huddled in darkness on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex.
After pondering for days how to get the 13 out, a rescue operation was launched on Sunday (July 8) when four of the boys were brought out, tethered to rescue divers. Another four were rescued on Monday (July 9) and the last four boys and the coach were brought out on Tuesday.
The last five were brought out of the cave on stretchers, one by one over the course of today (Tuesday), and taken by helicopter to hospital.
The first eight boys are in good health overall and some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast, officials said on Tuesday just before the rescuers began their third and most challenging final mission to free the remaining five.
Two of the boys had suspected lung infections but the four boys from the first group rescued were all walking around their hospital beds.
“The kids are footballers, are strong and have high immunity,” Jesada Chokdamrongsuk, Thailand’s health ministry permanent secretary, said when asked how they managed to survive so long.
The boys had a good appetite but were mainly being given bland, easily digestible foods. However, doctors later relented after some of the boys asked for bread with chocolate topping.
They are still being quarantined from their parents because of the risk of infection and are likely be kept in hospital for a week to undergo tests, officials said.
The head of the operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, said the final operation was going to be “more challenging” because one more survivor would be brought out than the previous two operations, along with three Navy SEALs who have been accompanying them.
The rescuers have been learning from experience and were two hours faster in bringing the second batch of survivors out on Monday. However, scattered monsoon rains continued to risk percolating through the limestone cave walls to flood the tunnels with water.
A crack team of foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALS guided the boys during a nine-hour operation through nearly 4 km (2.5 miles) of sometimes submerged, pitch-dark channels from where they have been trapped for more than a fortnight.
‘WE WILL PLAY TOGETHER’
People across Thailand cheered the rescue operation, including at the Mae Sai Prasitsart school where six of the trapped boys are students.
“I am very happy…” said Waranchit Karnkaew, 14, who also said the football-mad boys had been closely following games at the World Cup in Russia before they were trapped.
“I want to take my friends to lunch and we will play football together,” he told Reuters.
Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, has invited the boys to the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday. This seems less likely now given the need for the boys to undergo further tests.
The plight of the boys and their coach has drawn international attention since they became trapped when they went into the cave after soccer practice on June 23.
Divers, engineers, medics and others have flown in from around the world to assist.
Technology billionaire – and South African expat – Elon Musk went into the cave on Monday and left the rescue team with a “kid-sized” submarine his company SpaceX had built, Thailand’s interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said.
Musk said on Twitter: “Just returned from Cave 3. Mini-sub is ready if needed. It is made of rocket parts and named Wild Boar after kids’ soccer team. Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future.”
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the cave to inspect the operation and was quoted by Narongsak as saying he didn’t want to see this kind of incident happen again on Thai soil.
According to South African expat Anthony John Clews, who is in Thailand, the rescue teams have also all safely exited the cave now and it is only their equipment which is still in the cave. “Thai news said all the boys had low body temperatures, but are recovering well,” he told SAPeople. “Even the rescue teams that stayed with the boys and coach are en route to the hospital.”
Most of the English and foreign media were banned, and at least one journalist was arrested for flying a drone over the area.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Juarawee Kittisilpa, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, John Geddie and James Pomfret in CHIANG RAI, and Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Chayut Setboonsarng in BANGKOK; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Paul Tait)
— Arrive Alive (@_ArriveAlive) July 10, 2018