4 Thai schoolboys rescued from flooded cave

4 Thai schoolboys rescued from flooded cave
An ambulance leaving the Tham Luang cave area in Chiang Rai, Thailand on July 8, 2018.
PHOTO: AFP

[Updated with correction to number of boys rescued]:

CHIANG RAI, Thailand – Four of 12 schoolboys have been rescued so far from a flooded Thai cave after divers launched a daring and dangerous mission to free the children and their soccer coach, who were trapped underground for more than two weeks, Thai officials said.

"Today we managed to rescue and sent back four children to Chiang Rai Prachanukrua Hospital safely," said Narongsak Osottanakorn, the head of the rescue mission. "We sent back four children all safely."

Earlier another official had said six children had been taken out of the cave.

READ ALSO: Thai cave rescue: Condition of one boy cause for concern

Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit are trying to bring the rest of the boys - some as young as 11 and weak swimmers - through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai navy diver on Friday.

on Twitter

on Twitter

A helicopter flew some of the boys to the nearby city of Chiang Rai where they were taken by ambulance to hospital.

on Twitter

Their ordeal has drawn huge media attention in Thailand and abroad, and getting the boys out safely could be a boost for Thailand's ruling junta ahead of a general election next year.

on Twitter

on Twitter

Touching memes celebrate success of #ThaiCaveRescue mission

"Today is D-Day," Narongsak Osottanakorn, head of the rescue mission, had earlier told reporters.

on Twitter

Bursts of heavy monsoon rain soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai province on Sunday and storms were expected in the coming weeks, increasing the risks in what has been called a "war with water and time" to save the team.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after football practice on June 23, setting out on an adventure to explore the cave complex near the border with Myanmar and celebrate a boy's birthday.

Rescuing them all could take three to four days and depended on the weather, an army commander involved in the mission had said earlier.

The rescue teams had rehearsed the plan for several days, Narongsak said, and had managed to drain the water level in the cave considerably, but needed to move fast.

"If we wait and the rain comes in the next few days we will be tired again from pumping and our readiness would drop. If that's the case, then we have to reassess the situation," he said.

An Australian doctor who is part of the rescue mission checked the health of the boys on Saturday night and gave the all-clear for the operation to proceed.

The boys were discovered by British divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen on Monday.

Of the 13-strong foreign dive team - mainly from Europe - three were escorting the children, while the remainder were positioned along the dangerous first kilometre stretch, where the boys will have to navigate through submerged passageways in some places no more than two feet (0.6 metre) wide.

MEDICAL TEAMS ANXIOUS

Thirteen medical teams were stationed outside the cave - each with its own helicopter and ambulance - one for each of 12 boys and their coach. After an initial assessment at the site, the plan was to airlift the boys to a makeshift helipad close to the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, some 70 km away.

A source at the hospital said that five emergency response doctors were awaiting the party and a further 30 doctors were on stand-by, adding that everyone was feeling tense.

"The teams here are happy the boys are being rescued but also anxious about the severity of the boys' conditions. We're under a lot of pressure," she said, declining to be named because she was not allowed to speak to the media.

on Twitter

on Twitter

The area outside the hospital was cordoned off with police patrolling the area, said a Reuters reporter at the scene. Down the street, a loud speaker told vendors to "keep off the road"and to "not obstruct the transfer mission".

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of the military junta that seized power in 2014, planned to visit the cave site on Monday, a government spokesman said.

His visit with relatives and rescue officials last week was criticised by some Thais as opportunistic as his government faced pro-democracy protests in the capital Bangkok in recent months.

All 13 members of Thai junior football team found in flooded cave

  • Open gallery

    Parents of the boys trapped in the Chiang Rai cave shed tears of joy and relief on Wednesday morning as they watched a video of them being treated for minor injuries.

  • Open gallery

    The Royal Thai Navy SEALS shot the video and posted it on their “ThaiSEAL” Facebook page, showing the 12 boys noticeably thinner and looking exhausted.

  • Open gallery

    But the boys swaddled in silvery blankets proclaim themselves in good health in the clip.

  • Open gallery

    Their parents watched the video while they were waiting to talk to the boys via a specially rigged phone system.

  • Open gallery

    They reaffirmed their love for the children and said they were forgiven for going astray, since none of them could have expected the June 23 cave excursion would turn into a nail-biting 10-day drama, with no clear end yet in sight.

  • Open gallery

    Attention has now turned to how to get the group back out through several kilometers of dangerously flooded tunnels.

  • Open gallery

    The navy has raised the possibility that the 13 could be in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province until the flood waters recede, at the end of the rainy season in four months.

  • Open gallery

    But others say the boys could be out in a matter of days if the weather is on their side and water can be pumped out of the cave complex, and if they can be taught to use scuba gear.

  • Open gallery

    Kobchai Boonarana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation department, said it was up to the rescue team in the cave to decide whether and when the boys would be strong enough to tackle the journey out.

  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery

    “We miss them and want to see them get out very soon,” one parent said as the video played. “They look thinner, but we’re happy they’re safe.”

  • Open gallery

    Rescuers found all 12 boys and their football coach alive inside the flooded Tham Luang Cave Monday night.

  • Open gallery

    The 13 victims from a local football club, Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai, have been stranded inside the cave in Chiang Rai province because of flash floods since June 23.

  • Open gallery

    The group, mostly seated and with baggy football shirts pulled over their knees and illuminated by torchlight, asked for food and to leave the cave immediately, according to the video taken late Monday and shared on the official Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEALS.

  • Open gallery

    The group appeared exhausted, rake thin, sensitive to the light but lucid, with some speaking faltering English to try to communicate with the unidentified diver.

  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery

    Family members celebrate while camping out near Than Luang cave following news all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province late July 2, 2018.

  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery

    The Chiang Rai governor praised and gave credits to two British cave diving experts who found the missing team. He did not mention the names but it is understood to be John Volanthen and Richard Stanton (pic, in blue).

  • Open gallery

    Three British cave-divers, Richard William Stanton (L), John Volanthen (2nd-L) and Robert Charles Harper (3rd-L) arrive at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park near the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai on June 27, 2018

  • Open gallery

    12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old assistant football coach went missing on Saturday after they decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province,

  • Open gallery

    despite a sign warning visitors that the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.

  • Open gallery

    Bicycles and football shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group.

  • Open gallery

    But the search has so far yielded no other trace.

  • Open gallery

    The race to find the boys has gripped the Southeast Asian nation

  • Open gallery

    International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM),

  • Open gallery

    are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.

  • Open gallery

    Plans to drill into the mountainside overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.

  • Open gallery

    The 10-kilometre cave is one of Thailand's longest. Visitors are usually only allowed up to 800 meters inside the cave, which has a reputation for being difficult to navigate.

  • Open gallery

    Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.

  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery

    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site, offering encouragement to rescuers and comfort to relatives.

  • Open gallery

    "Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it," said Prayuth.

  • Open gallery

    "They're athletes. They're strong," he told the boys' relatives in an attempt to comfort them.

  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery
  • Open gallery

 

Purchase this article for republication.
Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.