Incredible rescue from Thai cave: Mission “I m Possible”

Thai Cave Rescue Team

In the northern Thailand, hundreds of international rescue workers were busy spending their last waking hours for the past 15 days trying to get a group of 12 boys, and their 25-year-old soccer coach out who have been inadvertently trapped in a cave after flooding caused by relentless monsoon rains.

In a marathon rescue operation, four boys were rescued on Sunday and an additional four emerged on Monday. Today, since early morning, a high-risk operation was in progress to rescue the remaining four boys and their coach. After a grueling operation all 13 people were rescued after being trapped in the cave for 18 days.

Thai navy Seals, who have been running the operation, confirmed that all 13 were out. The Seals officially broke this news on their Facebook page by posting “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science or what”.

Three navy seals and a doctor, who had been with the boys, emerged safely from the cave several hours later. The four boys and their coach who were rescued today have been airlifted to hospital to join their eight teammates who were rescued earlier.

The entire plan is based on bringing four boys each day because on an average, it takes about 20 hours to re-set the oxygen tanks which divers use inside the cave for the rescue purpose. It is not clear at this point of time if all five of those remaining inside will get out on Tuesday.

                   A Buddha statue is seen in front of Tham Luang cave

The idea of entire operation was based on to first take out the strongest boys which may seem counterintuitive, but then officials were working on the theory that those who have the best chance of surviving should be rescued first.

The boys who were mostly in 11-16 years age group, and their 25-year-old soccer coach became stranded when they went exploring inside the cave after a practice game. But the sudden Monsoon downpour blocked off their escape and also prevented rescuers from locating them for almost 10 days.

It was on July 2 when rescue teams finally discovered the boys and their coach who were found in relatively good health but had traveled deep inside the cave complex. Ekapol Chanthawong, the soccer coach who got trapped in the cave with 12 boys for nearly two weeks apologized to their parents in a handwritten note released Saturday and promised to take care of children during the difficult rescue mission.

                             Photograph: Thai Navy Seal/Reuters

The assistant coach of the Wild Boars, the football club has been on the receiving end of seething criticism for leading the boys into the predicament. At the same time, he got accolades for his subsequent efforts to keep them alive. It was told by authorities that the coach took the boys deep into a massive Tham Luang cave complex in the northern Chiang Rai province after a football game on June 23.

Through handwritten letters, the boys assured their parents and also requested for their favorite foods from family members. One boy called Tun wrote “Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine”. He further requested to get fried chicken after he got out of the cave. “The air here is little chilly but don’t worry”, wrote another. He also wrote “Don’t forget to set up my birthday party when I am back”

In a joint letter, the boys said they were all hale and hearty and wanted to go to their homes immediately. They also made a special request to their teachers. They wrote “Teacher, don’t give us lots of homework!”

While the boys sounded a brave tone, their situation remained critical as rescue teams raced against the time to find a way to get them out. Heavy rains were forecasted for this week which could raise the water levels in the flooded cave complex, making the rescue impossible.

The most likely rescue scenario would have involved getting out the boys by using diving gear with the help of expert divers. But, most of the boys didn’t know how to swim and had become physically weak during last two weeks. The difficulty level of the rescue operation would have made swimming across the cave very dangerous as in some places the width was not more than 20 inches.

The assistant coach of the Wild Boars, the football club has been on the receiving end of seething criticism for leading the boys into the predicament. At the same time, he got accolades for his subsequent efforts to keep them alive. It was told by authorities that the coach took the boys deep into a massive Tham Luang cave complex in the northern Chiang Rai province after a football game on June 23.

Through handwritten letters, the boys assured their parents and also requested for their favorite foods from family members. One boy called Tun wrote “Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine”. He further requested to get fried chicken after he got out of the cave. “The air here is little chilly but don’t worry”, wrote another. He also wrote “Don’t forget to set up my birthday party when I am back”

In a joint letter, the boys said they were all hale and hearty and wanted to go to their homes immediately. They also made a special request to their teachers. They wrote “Teacher, don’t give us lots of homework!”

While the boys sounded a brave tone, their situation remained critical as rescue teams raced against the time to find a way to get them out. Heavy rains were forecasted for this week which could raise the water levels in the flooded cave complex, making the rescue impossible.

The most likely rescue scenario would have involved getting out the boys by using diving gear with the help of expert divers. But, most of the boys didn’t know how to swim and had become physically weak during last two weeks. The difficulty level of the rescue operation would have made swimming across the cave very dangerous as in some places the width was not more than 20 inches.

As part of their rescue efforts, the divers are tutoring boys and the coach about rudimentary diving lessons. Thai authorities have made it clear that diving through the murky water is the only way the boys could be taken out. A fibre-optic cable is being laid inside the cave which would ensure the audio as well as video communication between children and their parents.

Poonsak Woongsatngiem, a rescue official with Thailand’s interior ministry, told The Guardian that the water level inside the cave had been reduced by 40 per cent in the past few days. However, more rainfall is putting pressure on the rescuers to come out with a plan to remove the boys before flood waters rise higher.

Divers who are working round the clock to free the boys and their coach must navigate dark, flooded tunnels for six hours to reach them. It takes another five hours to return. The authorities are also calculating as how long they could afford rescuers to remain in the cave considering that the weather could anytime change for worse. If it comes to that, the rescuers will be asked   to withdraw which could cut the contact with boys for next four months.

According to the rescue plan, the boys would be dressed in wetsuits, boots and helmets, and divers would use an 8mm static rope to guide them out. They will be given oxygen supply from a navy diver’s kit. A number of “stage tanks” have been also placed at every 25 to 50 metres along the cave to ensure a continuous supply of oxygen. Divers working in the rescue team have warned boys about the dark and dangerous waters which have flooded the cave.

Though boys are physically in much better shape but experts have their doubts as according to them the ordeal may have taken a heavy toll on their confidence level which could worsen if their stay becomes longer. Paul Auerbach from the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University medical school said  “It’s very likely that while the boys were in the cave they may have experienced various degrees of anxiety, fear, confusion, vulnerability and dependency, and perhaps hopelessness,” In the end, it will be apt to say “Jako rakhe Saiyan maar sake na koi”

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