Eight of the boys have made it out of the cave. Rescuers will soon try to save the last four and their coach.
The rescue mission to save 12 Thai boys and their soccer catch who’ve been trapped in a cave in northern Thailand is now well underway. As of Monday, eight boys had been rescued, while four boys and their coach remain in the cave. Rescuers will resume the mission late Monday or Tuesday after refilling oxygen tanks, CNN reports.
The 12 boys and the coach were found trapped in the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave system a half a mile below the surface by two British divers a week ago. The soccer team, known as the Wild Boars, had been missing since June 23, when heavy monsoon rains flooded the cave and trapped them in a chamber some 2.5 miles from the cave’s mouth.
The mission to rescue them is an extraordinary international operation with hundreds of cave and rescue experts and military personnel from several different countries, including the United States, pitching in. Rescue divers first delivered food and an air tube to the boys to make sure they had enough oxygen to breath. They’ve since taught them to dive and have been escorting them out of the cave, one by one. International doctors have also been providing medical assistance.
The initial rescue plan was to wait out the monsoon season, or at least to wait until the boys regained strength. But the threat of more rain loomed, and the situation became more dire. Oxygen levels in the cave had dropped to levels that could become dangerous. And the rescue team had its first fatality Friday in 38-year-old volunteer Saman Gunan, who lost consciousness as he was bringing oxygen tanks into the cave because he ran out of air underwater, the New York Times reported.
Since the operation to bring them out of the cave began, boys have been rescued in two waves: four on Sunday and four on Monday. They have been taken to the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital where they are currently quarantined and in recovery. And according to CNN, they have not seen their parents yet.
How did the Thai boys get in the cave?
It was Saturday, June 23. The team of 12 boys — who were all between the ages of 11 and 16 and nicknamed the Wild Boars — had just finished a weekly soccer practice and went to explore the cave with their coach. According to the Wall Street Journal, they had been inside the cave before; this time, they wanted to go further in to write their names on the wall as part of an initiation.
But after they’d entered the cave, heavy rain started falling and the rising water trapped them inside.
As Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono of the New York Times reported, at first, the governor of in Chiang Rai province, where the cave is located, thought a rescue would be “impossible.”
But the effort swiftly became an international collaboration. The US sent 30 people, including 17 members of the Air Force. Rescuers joined from Australia, Japan, China, Myanmar, and Laos. The British Cave Rescue Council headed the cave exploration that eventually found them.
According to the Times, the two civilian divers from England,
finally had a breakthrough, literally, when they chipped away at rocks and enlarged a passageway that had been too small to pass through while wearing an air tank.
Once they had created a large enough opening, they were able to push on to where they suspected the group was, roughly three miles from the cave entrance.
Mr. Volanthen and Rick Stanton, both civilian British divers, were in the lead Monday night, placing the ropes that divers can use to pass through the murky or turbulent water.
When they found the missing boys and the coach, they were huddled on a rock above the water, smiling but emaciated.
Footage of that moment — published on the Thai Navy SEALs’ Facebook page — has 23 million views. Over muffled audio, you can hear one of the rescuers telling the boys, “You have been here 10 days. 10 days. You are very strong, very strong.”
พบเยาวชนทีมหมูป่าบริเวณหาดทรายห่างจาก Pattaya beach 200 เมตร โดยนักดำน้ำหน่วยซีลดำน้ำวางไลน์เชือกนำทาง ร่วมกับนักดำน้ำจากประเทศอังกฤษ ระยะทางจากห้องโถง 3 ยาว 1,900 เมตร เมื่อเวลา 21.38 น. คืนวันที่ 2 กรกฎาคม 2561
Posted by Thai NavySEAL on Monday, July 2, 2018
The story struck a happy chord around the world. People from all over tweeted out their excitement upon hearing of the rescue.
Felt pretty good to report this news today: The 12 boys, and their coach have been found alive in a cave in Thailand.
— Natasha Fatah (@NatashaFatah) July 3, 2018
The days leading to the rescue
The mission: navigate 12 boys who don’t know how to swim through 2.5 miles of flooded and narrow passageways. For days, it seemed an impossible task.
As oxygen levels dropped and the risk of more rainfall increased, the Royal Thai Navy realized that it needed to act quickly.
“At first we thought we could sustain the kids’ lives for a long time where they are now, but now many things have changed,” Thai Navy Seal Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yookongkaew said on Friday, “We have a limited amount of time.”
The rescuers had been juggling four options over the past week: pumping out the water flooding the cave, teaching the boys to swim, finding or drilling an alternative entrance, or waiting out the monsoon.
It takes the experienced divers five hours to make the due to high currents, poor visibility, and narrow, muddy paths, and many were unsure if the boys could take on this gargantuan challenge.
Edd Sorenson, a member of the National Speleological Society-Cave Diving Section, told Vox that dry rescues like this one — where the trapped people are not fully submerged — are usually safer than wet rescues. But this rescue has been complicated by the flooding.
“Water can be very violent, and this is a very difficult [cave rescue] because of the extreme high flow, the zero visibility, the boulder pile chokes, restrictions,” he said.
The Navy, as well as a Special Response Team from Australia, had been bringing in food, water, medicine, and diving equipment into the cave. To raise oxygen levels, they ran air pipe from the rescue base inside the cave to the chamber where the boys and the coach are waiting to be rescued.
Soccer stars provided moral support too: Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima and Christian Fuchs sent messages to the team. Elon Musk tweeted Saturday that his SpaceX his engineers were working on a “tiny, kid-size submarine” that might be useful in the rescue.
How were the boys rescued?
On Monday, the Thai Navy SEAL joyously updated their Facebook page with the most recent rescue number, referring to the boys by their team name, the Wild Boars: “2 days, 8 boars. Hooyah.”
The rescuers began their first attempt on Sunday, pairing up 2 divers per boy. The boys were equipped with full-face masks, which are specifically designed for beginner divers. And the pros who accompanied them carried their oxygen tanks. In just 9 hours—instead of the usual 11—the divers walked out of the cave with 4 boys.
“The operation went much better than expected,” Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said, according to the Associated Press.
The second mission, which began at 11 am local time on Monday, resulted in 4 more boys emerging from the cave.
CNN describes how they were able to maneuver out of the caves:
The most dangerous part of the journey out of the labyrinth cave system is the first kilometer, during which they are required to squeeze through a narrow flooded channel.
Rescuers need to hold the boys’ oxygen tanks in front of them and swim pencil-like through submerged holes. Having completed this section, the boys are then handed over to separate, specialist rescue teams, who help assist them through the remainder of the cave, much of which they can wade through.
According to Reuters, the diving rescue team is made of 13 foreign divers and 5 members of the the Thai Navy SEAL. The original plan was to bring out the strongest boys first; a doctor was sent into the cave to make the judgement, but we are still unsure which of the boys has been rescued.
What happens now?
The boys who have already been rescued are currently recovering in the hospital. They must be quarantined for a few days until doctors can be sure that they haven’t caught any transmissible diseases from their time in the cave. As a result, they have not had a chance to see their worried parents.
Their mental health will also have to be addressed, as they could have symptoms of PTSD after being underground for so long.
The remaining people in the cave must be patient for at least 10 more hours until oxygen tanks can be replenished and a third rescue mission can be underway. They have been lucky with uncharacteristically low rainfall, but the weather forecast calls for rain over the next few days.
The entire country is both rejoicing the successful rescues and praying for the remaining people to come out safely.
“Basically, we have two obstacles: water and time,” Osotthanakorn said on Sunday. “We have to do all we can, even though it is hard to fight the force of nature.”