A daring rescue mission in the treacherous confines of a flooded cave in northern Thailand has saved the lives of 12 boys and their football coach who were trapped deep inside the cave, ending a gruelling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced volunteer diver.
The boys and their coach were trapped in the Tham Luan Nang Non cave that became flooded by monsoon rains while they were on exploration after a soccer practice June 23.
The Thai navy SEALs, who were instrumental to the rescue effort, posted on their Facebook page Tuesday that the mission was accomplished successfully.
“We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave,” the SEALs wrote, referring to the name of the boys’ soccer team.
Each of the boys, ages 11 to 16 and with no diving experience, was guided out by a pair of divers during three days of operations. The route, in some places just a crawl space, had oxygen canisters positioned at regular intervals to refresh each team’s air supply.
Heavy downpour in the morning cleared during the day, a reassuring sign for rescuers who feared monsoon rains could jeopardise the rescue.
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.
Report has that a medic and three Thai navy SEALs who had stayed with the boys on a small, dry shelf deep in the flooded cave have left the cave as well.
Cheers erupted at a local government office where dozens of volunteers and journalists were awaiting news of this high-risk rescue mission had succeeded. Helicopters taking the boys to a hospital roared overhead.
People on the street cheered and clapped when ambulances ferrying the boys arrived at the hospital in Chiang Rai city.
FIFA had invited the boys to attend the World Cup final, but the boys will not be able to travel in time for Sunday’s game because of health concerns.
At the moment they are receiving treatment at the hospital and 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 had requested.
French star Paul Pogba dedicated the victory to the rescued children after France’s World Cup semi-final win over Belgium later on Tuesday,
Manchester United also expressed relief over the rescue and invited the boys and their coach, old to see watch some league matches for free this season.