A Royal Thai Police helicopter carrying rescued schoolboys lands at a military airport in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 8, 2018. (Source: Reuters)
Authorities are preparing to resume extractions of a youth soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand a day after four boys were rescued. The rescue mission began Sunday with rain threatening to raise water levels inside the cave where the team has been stranded for two weeks. There was a heavy but brief downpour Monday morning. New oxygen tanks were being placed in the cave before the second stage of the rescue effort began.
Extracting everyone could take four days, but Sunday’s success raised hopes that it could be done.
A group of 12 boys and their coach went missing on June 23 after their football practice. The team, which had gone to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non-cave in northern Chiang Rai province, got trapped inside after heavy rains flooded its entrance.
One of the boys’ mother reported them missing after her son didn’t return home after practice. Subsequently, their bicycles and soccer boots were found at the mouth of the caves, prompting authorities to launch a massive rescue operation.
How the Thai cave rescue mission unfolded
After being reported missing, the police and park officials began a search. They found the group’s belongings, handprints, and footprints near the cave. The 12 boys, all between the ages of 11-16, belong to different schools in Mae Sai district in northern Thailands. They are part of a local soccer team called ‘Wild Boar’.
Chiang Rai province acting governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said the operation is going “better than expected.” (Source: AP)
When were the boys first spotted?
On July 2, the Thai Navy SEALS, and two British cave diving experts found them alive, deep inside a partially flooded part of the cave. They were found on an elevated rock about four kilometres from the mouth of the cave. A video released by the Thai navy showed the boys in their soccer uniforms sitting in a dry area inside the cave. The video provided major relief to their families waiting outside. The boys were weak but able to move around on their own, reported Reuters. They were been given food, blankets and first aid.
Difficulties faced in rescuing the soccer team
Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn addressed a press conference on July 5 and said that more than 100 holes were dug over the caves in the hope of finding another route of escape. There were reportedly 18 holes which gave rescuers hope with the deepest reaching 400m.
However, non-stop rain hindered the rescue operations. The SEALs were pumping out water from wells near the cave in an attempt to drain the water inside. Almost 120 million litres of water was pumped out by late on Tuesday or about 1.6 million every hour, reported Reuters. Thai authorities were working with Navy SEALs to run an internet line into a flooded cave so that communications can be established between the group and their families. They tried doing the same on Tuesday, however, the equipment was damaged by water.
In this grab taken from a video provided by Chiang Rai Public Relations Office, emergency workers carry a stretcher with one of the rescued boys to be transported by ambulance to a hospital in Mae Sai in Thailand. (Source: AP)
First fatality of the rescue efforts
Samarn Kunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL member who was part of the team of divers, died inside the cave on July 5 due to lack of oxygen, raising concerns about the 12 school boys and their 25-year-old coach who have been trapped in the flooded caves for almost two weeks now. Kunan died after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, according to AP reports.
The aunt of coach Ekapol Chantawong shows a picture of the coach and his grandmother on a mobile phone screen in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand. (Source: AP)
When did the rescue mission start?
Worried that heavy monsoon rain could soon make the job even more difficult, Thai officials said Saturday that they may need to quickly rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a partially flooded cave by helping them make risky dives to safety.
Those involved in the rescue mission have called the operation a ‘war with time and water.’ Officials initially had thought that the boys had to stay in the cave till the monsoon receeded. However, the idea was risky as the water levels kept rising the oxygen levels were dropping in the cave. Also, the boys were weak swimmers. And so, a rescue mission to get the team, whose nickname is the Wild Boars, out of the cave began on Sunday morning.
Thai policemen stand guard near a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped since June 23, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand Sunday, July 8, 2018. (Source: AP)
How will the rescue work?
International experts including the US military, Australian divers and Thai navy are involved in the rescue operations. The boys and their coach will be brought one-by-one. Each is accompanied by two divers. The route the boys and divers need to travel to get out of the cave is 2.5 miles from the cave entrance, and portions of it are submerged.
While the boys are trained in how to breathe through scuba masks, they are weak swimmers.
Relatives and friends pray for the 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach trapped inside the cave. (Source: Reuters)
What we know about the divers and rescuers leading the operation?
The rescue team comprises of International experts including the US military, Australian divers and Thai navy. Australia’s foreign minister told AP that 19 Australian personnel are involved in the Thailand cave rescue operation including a doctor who’s played an essential part in assessing which boys can leave and in what order.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Australia that anesthetist and experienced cave diver Richard Harris is working with the Thai medical team inside the cave “to make the decisions about the order in which the boys were to be extracted.”
Chiang Rai province acting governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is heading the operation, confirmed on Sunday that 13 foreign divers and five Thai Navy SEALs were taking part in the key leg of the rescue.
This photo released via the Thailand Navy SEAL facebook page on Sunday, July 8, 2018, shows rescuers’ hands locked with a caption reading “We Thai and the international teams join forces to bring the young Wild Boars home”. (Source: AP)
Day 1 of Thailand cave rescue
Expert divers rescued four of 12 boys on Sunday from a flooded cave in northern Thailand where they were trapped with their soccer coach for more than two weeks. The rescue mission began at 10 a.m on Sunday. Shortly before 8 p.m., the SEALs reported on their official Facebook page that four had been rescued. Thai navy SEALs posted a celebratory note on their Facebook page, saying: “Have sweet dreams everyone. Good night. Hooyah.”
The four rescued boys were taken to the hospital in the town of Chiang Rai were given immediate medical attention and their health conditions are being constantly monitored. The names of the rescued boys were not released.
The entire operation could take up to four days, but the initial success raised hopes about the rescue mission.
Day 2 of rescue mission
The same divers who rescued the boys on Sunday will conduct the next leg of the operation on Monday. In comments released by the government, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said officials were meeting Monday morning about the next stage of the operation and how to extract the remaining nine people from the cave in the country’s north. Anupong said divers need to place more air canisters along the underwater route to where the boys and their coach are trapped and that the process could take hours.
Two helicopters wait near the cave for more evacuations of the boys and their soccer coach who have been trapped since June 23, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand Monday, July 9, 2018. (Source: AP)