Thailand cave rescue: How the ‘Mission Impossible’ was accomplished

 In U.S.
Rescuers freed the last four of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from deep inside a flooded cave yesterday, a successful end to a perilous mission that gripped the world for more than two weeks.

World leaders joined the global outpouring of relief and congratulations at the astounding rescue.

Mohammad Bin Zayed hails mission

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, tweeted: “I was very pleased with the successful rescue of 12 kids and their coach who were trapped in a cave in Thailand. A humanitarian story that the entire world empathised with. I salute the rescue efforts and our heartfelt congratulations to the children, their families, brave rescue teams, and the King of Thailand, his government and people.”

The “Wild Boars” soccer team, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach became trapped on June 23 while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

Medic and Navy SEALs exit cave  

The medic and three Navy SEAL divers have exited Thai cave, said the head of rescue mission. Thai army has sent over 1,000 personnel to assist in the operation that safely evacuated 12 members of the junior football team and their coach, trapped in the cave for 18 days. I am so happy, I may not be able to thank everyone,’ he said.

‘I am so happy, I may not be able to thank everyone,’ he said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking before the final rescue was completed, said the boys were given an anti-anxiety medication to help with their perilous removal from the cave.

Asked at a weekly press conference Tuesday in Bangkok if the boys had been sedated, Prayuth said: “Who would chloroform them? If they’re chloroformed, how could they come out? It’s called anxiolytic, something to make them not excited, not stressed.”

All 12 boys and coach out of Thai cave

All 12 boys and their coach have been safely brought out of the flooded Tham Luang cave in Thailand. 

“12 ‘Wild Boars’ and coaches out of the cave. Safe everyone. This time, waiting to pick up 4 Frogs.” Thai Navy Seals posted on their Facebook page.  

Four divers who stayed with the group were still to emerge.

Earlier, three ambulances, their lights flashing, were seen leaving the site of the flooded Thai cave where rescuers are involved in an all-out effort to rescue members of a youth soccer team and their coach trapped deep within.

The “Wild Boars” soccer team and their coach got trapped on June 23 while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai after soccer practice and a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

British divers found the 13, hungry and huddled in darkness on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, on Monday last week.

Eleventh person rescued from Thai cave

Three more people were rescued from a flooded Thai cave on Tuesday, officials said, bringing to 11 the number saved and raising hopes all members of the young football team who became trapped 18 days ago would survive.

An ambulance transporting alleged members of the children’s football team approaches the hospital in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai. AFP

Two more were still inside the cave but authorities were confident of getting them out by Tuesday evening through a claustrophobic network of tunnels that in some places were completely filled with water.

“(They) will be extracted today,” rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters on Tuesday morning.

The hoped-for final chapter in an ordeal that has gripped the world came after elite foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALs escorted eight members of the “Wild Boars” football team out of the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on Sunday and Monday.

Then on Tuesday afternoon multiple sources involved in the operation said three more had been escorted out. However it was not clear if the 25-year-old coach was among them or if he remained inside.

The 12 boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their coach, ventured into the cave on June 23 after football practice and got caught deep inside when heavy rains caused flooding that trapped them on a muddy ledge.

 

10th person rescued

A tenth person was rescued on Tuesday. A witness saw two people being carried out of the Tham Luang cave on stretchers. They were the first two to be taken out on Tuesday, the third day of the rescue operation.

Eight of the boys were brought out on stretchers over the first two days – four on Sunday and four on Monday.

Officials were not immediately available to comment on who had been brought out.

The head of the operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, said earlier the final operation would be “more challenging” because one more survivor would be brought out, 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 fast-flowing water.

A crack team of foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALS has been guiding the boys out through nearly 4 km of sometimes submerged, pitch-dark channels.

9th person rescued

A ninth person has been rescued from a flooded Thai cave on Tuesday, with an ambulance seen leaving the site of the Thai cave where divers are carrying out what they hope is a final mission to bring out four boys and their football coach still trapped deep inside.

At least nine ambulances have been waiting at the site after the leader of the rescue operation said Tuesday’s aim was to bring out all five as well as a medic and three Thai Navy SEALS, who have been with the trapped boys.

Officials have generally waited hours to confirm rescues. Tuesday’s operation began just after 10am. 

In the past two days, eight boys were rescued and are now in a hospital isolation ward while they are tested for any possible infections. Medical experts say they are in high spirits and generally healthy.

Diver hails ‘incredibly strong’ Thai cave boys

A foreign diver involved in the mission to save 12 boys and their football coach from a flooded Thai cave has hailed the children as “incredibly strong”, and described their treacherous escape journey as unprecedented.

“They are getting forced to do something that no kid has ever done before. It is not in any way normal for kids to go cave diving at age 11,” Ivan Karadzic, who runs a diving business in Thailand, told the BBC in an interview that was published online on Tuesday.

Ivan Karadzic Reuters

“They are diving in something considered (an) extremely hazardous environment in zero visibility, the only light that is in there is the torch light we bring our self.”

The boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, ventured into the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on June 23 after football practice and became trapped when heavy rains flooded the cave.

Two British divers found them nine days later huddled on a muddy ledge in pitch darkness more than four kilometres inside the cave system.

Authorities then gathered 90 divers, 50 of them foreigners, to help extract the boys out of a claustrophobic tunnel network that in some places was completely filled with water and so narrow that they could only be squeezed through.

Conditions were so dangerous that a retired Thai Navy SEAL died on Friday while trying to lay out oxygen tanks underwater in a tunnel, and the rescue chief at one point dubbed the operation “Mission Impossible”.

Adding to the dangers, most of the boys could not swim, and none had scuba diving experience.

However, the divers escorted eight of the boys out on Sunday and Monday, and authorities said they were aiming to extract the remaining members of the group on Tuesday.

Karadzic, who the BBC reported was stationed near a difficult stretch of the cave about half-way along the escape route to replace oxygen tanks and help guide people through, said the rescue workers had feared the worst.

“We were obviously very afraid of any kind of panic from the divers,” he said, adding he was in awe of the boys’ ability to stay calm.

“I cannot understand how cool these small kids are, you know? Thinking about how they’ve been kept in a small cave for two weeks, they haven’t seen their mums. Incredibly strong kids. Unbelievable almost.”

Final rescue mission underway

Divers are carrying out what they hope is a final mission to save four boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than two weeks, the rescue leader said on Tuesday, as health experts gave the eight already brought out a chocolate treat and described them as being in good spirits.

Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said on Tuesday’s intricate and high-risk operation began just after 10am and involves 19 divers. A medic and three Thai Navy SEALs who have stayed with the boys on a small, dry shelf deep in the flooded cave will also come out, he said.

“We expect that if there is no unusual condition … the four boys, one coach, the doctor, and three SEALs who have been with the boys since the first day will come out today,” he told a news conference to loud cheering.

Nargonsak said this phase may take longer than the previous two rescue missions, the longer, first missing taking 11 hours.

The eight boys brought out by divers over the previous two days are in “high spirits” and have strong immune systems because they are soccer players, a senior health official said.

Doctors were being cautious because of the infection risk and were isolating the boys in the hospital. They did get a treat, however: bread with chocolate spread that they’d requested.

The plight of the boys and their coach has riveted Thailand and much of the world – from the heart-sinking news they were missing to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found 10 days later by a pair of British divers. They were trapped in the Tham Luan Nang Non cave that became flooded by monsoon rains while they were exploring it after a soccer practice on June 23.

At a news conference, Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said the first four boys rescued, aged 12 to 16, are now able to eat normal food, though they can’t yet take the spicy dishes favoured by many Thais.

Two of the boys possibly have a lung infection but all eight are generally “healthy and smiling,” he said.

“The kids are footballers so they have high immune systems,” Jedsada said.

“Everyone is in high spirits and are happy to get out. But we will have a psychiatrist to evaluate them.”

It could be at least seven days before they can be released from hospital, Jedsada told a news conference.

Family members have seen at least some of the boys from behind a glass isolation barrier, and Jedsada said doctors may let the boys walk around their beds Tuesday.

It was clear doctors were taking a cautious approach. Jedsada said they were uncertain what type of infections the boys could face “because we have never experienced this kind of issue from a deep cave.”

If medical tests show no dangers, after another two days parents will be able to enter the isolation area dressed in sterilised clothing and staying 2 meters away from the boys, said Tosthep Bunthong, Chiang Rai Public Health Chief.

The second group of four rescued on Monday are aged 12 to 14.
Four ambulances and a convoy of other vehicles arrived at the cave site Tuesday morning to prepare for the third phase of the rescue.

Heavy rains in the morning cleared during the day, a reassuring sign for rescuers who have feared monsoon rains could imperil the rescue.

Officials scotched any chance of using tech billionaire Elon Musk’s mini sub made of rocket parts to rescue the remaining boys.

Narongsak said he was grateful for Musk’s support but the equipment was impractical for the rescue mission.

Musk on Tuesday visited the cave and posted pictures and videos online. He said he left the equipment there in case rescuers could use it in the future.

8 saved in good health

Mae Sai: The first eight boys rescued from a Thai cave are in good mental and physical health and are asking for chocolate, officials said on Tuesday, although two were on antibiotics after being tested for pneumonia.

“Everyone is in a good mental state,” Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the public health ministry, told reporters at Chiang Rai hospital.

“None of the eight boys has fever today,” he added in the clearest update yet on the condition of the boys rescued from Tham Luang cave.

The boys, aged 12-16, were the first to be extracted on Sunday and Monday, while the final four and their coach spent a 17th night inside.

Experts had warned of possible long-lasting damage from the ordeal, either through psychological trauma or infections caught in the cave.

Classmates pray on hearing the news that some of the boys were rescued at Mae Sai Prasitsart school, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand. Reuters

Jesada said the group had been given x-rays and blood tests, adding that two presented suspected symptoms of pneumonia but were given antibiotics and were “in a normal state”. He said the group can eat, move about, and talk.

“They (all the boys) will have to stay in the hospital for one week to wait for their results and to see if anything changes,” he said.

Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, Inspector General of the Public Health Ministry, said the first four boys taken out on Sunday were eating normal and plain food.

“They’re asking for chocolate. We can see that everything is ok as they’re eating well,” he said.

The boys remain in quarantine but some of their parents have been able to see their children through the glass.

8th boy rescued

Four more of the youth soccer players trapped for over two weeks in a flooded cave in northern Thailand were brought out on Monday, an official said, bringing to eight the number extracted in the ongoing high-stakes rescue operation.

“The eighth person is out and the operation is done for today,” Sitthichai Klangpattana, flag officer to Thailand’s navy SEAL commander, told The Associated Press. “Four boys were brought out today.”

He didn’t comment on the health of the boys or how well the operation had gone. After Monday’s rescue effort, four boys and their coach were still inside the labyrinth cave. The official heading Thai cave rescue effort says he’s not sure if the remaining five people will be extracted in one or more operations.

On Sunday, when the high-risk rescue operation to rescue the 12 boys and their coach began, teams of divers brought out four of the boys but waited several hours before confirming their safe rescue.

Thai boys: The mental trauma

Eight of the twelve football players trapped in the cave have been rescued after a harrowing journey past ill-fitted tunnels in dark, muddy waters. But what of those who remain? The young football players – aged 11 to 16- and their coach have spent nearly two weeks on a 10sqft ledge amid thinning air and scarce rations. But here’s what they need to hear, says Dr Mrabet Jihene, clinical psychologist at Life Psychological Counselling Centre: “We were here waiting for you.”

“The children must feel the support,” explains the doctor. “It’s all about support, dialogue and love. Showing to the kids that they are so loved and they are so precious the whole country was their just waiting for them to go out safe. And this feeling will help them overcome the trauma after sometime.“ Read the full report

Eighth boy rescued 

An eighth person has been carried out on a stretcher from Thailand cave, reports Reuters, quoting eyewitness. It is believed that rescue operations have been suspended for the day. A total of four boys have been rescued so far in today’s operation. There are five people still inside the cave, the coach Ekapol Chanthawong and four Wild Boars. 

“2 days, 8 Wild Boars. Hooyah,” the Thai Navy SEALs said in a post on their official Facebook page, referring to the boys and their coach by the name of their football team. 

An aide to the Thai Navy SEAL commander also says four boys were brought out of the flooded cave in northern Thailand on Monday and the ongoing rescue operation is over for the day. The aide, Sitthichai Klangpattana, didn’t comment on the boys’ health or say how well the operation has gone. 

The first of the boys extracted Monday was carried in a stretcher and brought by helicopter to a hospital in Chiang Rai, and separate helicopters and ambulances were seen heading in the same direction.

There was no immediate word on their conditions.

Boys healthy and demanding fried rice

The first four boys rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand were in good health and demanding fried rice in hospital on Monday, the head of the rescue team said, as divers resumed operations to bring out the remaining members of the group.

The four boys, rescued on Sunday, were flown by helicopter from the Tham Luang cave to the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, located at the heart of Chiang Rai province, about 70 km (40 miles) away.

“The four children are fine. The children complained that they were hungry and wanted holy basil stir-fried rice,” Narongsak Osottanakorn, the head of the rescue operation, told reporters on Monday, referring to a popular Thai dish.
Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda also said the boys were in good health. He did not give further details.

Officials have yet to confirm the identities of the four boys freed. Narongsak on Monday said their identities were being protected out of respect for the families of those still trapped inside the cave.

Officials last week said they would bring the fittest people in the group out first, but Narongsak later said that whoever was ready first would be escorted out.

7th boy evacuated

The number of boys rescued becomes seven as one more has been evacuated to safety from the flooded cave, Reuters reports.  

Two boys rescued

A fifth and sixth boy have been rescued from the cave in northern Thailand where their football team and coach have been trapped for over two weeks, Guardian reported a short while ago.

Sources at the site said the fifth boy emerged before 5pm and was leaving the entrance. Minutes later, an ambulance passed the media centre a few kilometres from the cave, followed by a helicopter passing overhead a short time later.

About 6pm local time reports emerged a sixth boy had also been stretchered from the cave and was being treated in a field hospital.

Rescue workers were seen carrying a person on a stretcher away from a cave complex and into a waiting ambulance, a witness said.

Authorities tight-lipped

Thai authorities are being tight-lipped about who was inside an ambulance seen leaving the site of a flooded cave Monday, as they were the night before when four of the 13 people trapped inside the underground complex were rescued, reports AP.

Multiple calls to senior government officials and military personnel leading the operation to rescue the members of the youth soccer team rang unanswered Monday evening. 

Thai public television has aired live video of a medivac helicopter landing close to a hospital in the city of Chiang Rai, near the site of the cave where a youth soccer team has been trapped for more than two weeks.

Medics appeared to remove one person on a stretcher but hid the person’s identity behind multiple white umbrellas. An ambulance was seen leaving the scene immediately afterward early Monday evening.

 

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Less than an hour earlier, an ambulance with flashing lights had left the cave complex, hours after the start of the second phase of an operation to rescue the soccer team.

Why is the world focused on a cave in Thailand?

A mission to rescue a group of boys and their football coach trapped in the flooded cave since June 23 resumed on Monday. The first four boys, from the group of 13, including the coach, were rescued on Sunday.

The route to safety

 

thai choke point 940px

4 rescued to be isolated

Four members of a Thai youth football team guided out of a flooded cave complex will not be allowed physical contact with their parents until the risk of infection has gone, the chief of the rescue bid said on Monday.

A nurse (L) and rescue personnel stand in front of an ambulance at the hospital where the boys rescued have being brought for observation. AFP

“They (the four) will be kept away from their parents for a while because we are concerned about infections,” Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters, adding doctors will decide on family visits “at a distance or through glass.”

‘Hope to hear good news’

Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said the second phase began at 11am and authorities “hope to hear good news in the next few hours.” Nine people remain trapped in the cave.

Authorities have been rushing to extract the boys, ages 11-16, and their coach from the cave as monsoon rains bore down on the mountainous region in far northern Chiang Rai province. Authorities said heavy downpours overnight did not raise water levels in the cave, where workers continue to pump water out.

A Thai well wisher puts a poster to pray for boys and their soccer coach. AP

The four boys pulled from the cave Sunday in an urgent and dangerous operation that involved them diving through the cave’s tight and twisting passages were in good health. Still, they were undergoing medical checks in a hospital and were not yet allowed close contact with relatives due to fear of infections, who were able to see them through a glass partition.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda had said early on Monday that the same divers who took part in Sunday’s rescue would return to extricate the others as they know the cave conditions and what to do. He had said fresh air tanks needed to be laid along the underwater route. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was scheduled to visit the site later on Monday.

Thai cave rescue bid enters day two

A treacherous rescue bid to free a youth football team trapped in a flooded Thai cave entered its second day on Monday, with nine of the “Wild Boars” still inside after elite divers guided four out.

Thai police guard a road leading to the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the remaining eight boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park. AFP

Looming rain was one of the main enemies of the operation, threatening to flood the cave complex in mountainous northern Thailand, although a bewildering array of other dangers could also doom their safe return.

Thailand has waited anxiously for news of the safe return of the boys and their 25-year-old coach since they became trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex on June 23, in a saga that has dominated global headlines.

They spent nine days unaccounted for inside the cave, before British divers found the emaciated and dishevelled group huddling on a muddy bank.

On Sunday four members of the “Wild Boar” team were successfully brought out from the cave, after authorities decided they had to rush ahead with a rescue operation to beat monsoon rains.

They were guided by expert divers who plotted the hours-long escape through more than four kilometres of twisting passageways and flooded chambers.

Rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn on Sunday said four of the team – affectionately dubbed by Thai social media Wild Boars 1,2,3,4 – were “safe” but released few details about their condition or identities.

He said the extraction effort would likely resume early Monday.

“We’ve been working continuously overnight,” a Chiang Rai government source told AFP on Monday morning, requesting anonymity, and confirming that there had only been a pause of the actual extraction operations.

Agonising wait

With authorities releasing few details of the rescue bid, parents continued their agonising wait to be reunited with their sons.

“I am still waiting here at the cave, keeping my fingers crossed to see whether my son will be one of those to come out today,” Supaluk Sompiengjai, a mother of Pheeraphat – known by his nickname “Night” – told AFP.

“We heard four boys are out but we do not know who they are. Many parents are still here waiting. None of us has been informed of anything.”

But she added she was “happy” at the prospect of seeing her son again.

To get the boys out, divers will be forced by the narrow passages to accompany them one at a time.

None of the boys have scuba diving experience and experts have warned they could easily panic while swimming underwater in darkness.

4 of 13 rescued

The mother of one of the boys reportedly freed in the northern Thailand cave rescue has said she is sleeping at the cave site as she waits for confirmation her son was among the first four children to make it out

Four boys were freed from the cave in an eight-hour operation on Sunday after spending more than two weeks stranded by water on high ground about  3.2 kilometres inside. They are recovering in hospital in the nearby city of Chiang Rai.

Thai soldiers and paramedics assist a rescued boy on a stretcher to an ambulance. AFP

Authorities have not named the boys who had rescued – not even to the parents of the group, said Namhom Boonpiam, the mother of Mongkhol Boonpiam.

Mongkhol, 14, has been named by Thai media as one of the boys who was freed on Sunday.

Namhom said she had only learned he may have been freed from reports on social media, which the families are tracking from the cave site.
“I just heard his name, Mongkhol, and I was happy enough,” she said.

She was sleeping at the cave site with many of the other parents and had not yet thought about what she would say once she saw him. “Let me meet him first,” she said.

Ninety divers, 50 foreign and 40 Thai, are involved in the rescue operation, said an official. The first boy exited the cave at 17.40 local time.

Four boys among a group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on Sunday, authorities said, revising earlier reports of six rescues.

Thai official heading the cave rescue operation says the healthiest have been taken out first and the operation is going better than expected. However, he added, rescue workers need ‘about 10 hours’ to prepare for next operation. 

The first two boys emerged about nightfall from the Tham Luang cave complex after navigating a treacherous escape route of more than four kilometres through twisting, narrow and jagged passageways.

They were followed shortly afterwards by two others, leading to an explosion of jubilation on social media in Thailand and around the world as the rescued boys were rushed to hospital.

“Six of them came out,” a defence ministry official, who asked not to be named, initially told AFP. 

Foreign elite divers and Thai Navy SEALS on Sunday morning began the complex operation to extract the 12 boys and their football coach as they raced against time, with imminent monsoon rains threatening more flooding that would doom the mission.

“Today is the D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges,” rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near the cave site on Sunday morning.

The group became trapped in a cramped chamber deep inside Tham Luang in a mountainous area of northern Thailand on June 23, when they went in after football practice and got caught behind rising waters.

Their plight transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, as authorities struggled to devise a plan to get the boys – aged between 11 and 16 – and their 25-year-old coach out.

‘Mission impossible’

The rescue of the first four was a stunning victory in an operation Narongsak had earlier dubbed “Mission Impossible”, and led to cautious optimism that the others would also be saved.

Another official involved in the rescue operation said the initial kids who had been saved formed a first group.

A second group made up of the others had also begun the journey from the chamber where they had been trapped, a rescue worker told AFP.

The quick extraction came as a surprise after one of the operation commanders said on Sunday morning the rescue efforts could take several days to complete.

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