It may be more than a year before Tham Luang cave reopens

Members of the Mu Pa Academy football team are granted an audience with Prince Albert II of Monaco, standing fifth from left, at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires recently. The prince is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

There are no plans yet to reopen the world-famous Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province where 12 Mu Pa (Wild Boars) footballers and their deputy coach were trapped in late June, a senior official of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department said recently.

However, in December, the public will be allowed to visit the surrounding areas inside Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park but not the cave, deputy director-general Chongklai Worapongsathorn said.

"The Mineral Resource department's team will inspect the cave early next year to see if it would be safe for the public to visit. However we cannot say for certain how long the inspection will take or when the cave will reopen. It could possibly take more than a year," he said. When the cave is reopened, it will be for only a short distance from the mouth of the 10km-long cave, not through to the end like before.

The Mu Pa members disappeared inside the cave in late June after a flash flood blocked their way out. It was revealed after they were rescued that they had to retreat deep into the cave due to the inundation. Their disappearance triggered a massive international operation to locate and evacuate them from the heavily flooded cave.

The 17-day rescue operation became a symbol of international co-operation and climaxed with a successful evacuation operation.

Lt-Commander Saman Kunan, a former Navy SEAL, was the only casualty of the mission. After the Mu Pa team members were rescued, equipment and other things were left inside the flooded cave.

Chongklai yesterday said that around February, when the cave becomes dry, authorities would be allowed to remove the equipment left inside. It is reported that on average about 3,000 persons visit the forest park during holidays and about 500-1,000 during weekdays.

The landscape of the areas outside the cave that had been damaged during the weeks-long rescue mission have been renovated and modified in preparation for reopening to the public.

The 12 Mu Pa footballers and their deputy coach were this week in Buenos Aires to attend the Olympic Youth Games as special guests of the International Olympic Committee.

They had the opportunity to play football with international youth teams and share their experiences with them.

Phayao Governor Narongsak Osotanakorn, the then-Chiang Rai governor who headed the rescue operation, also joined the trip. He, deputy coach Ekkapon Chantawong and a Mu Pa footballer, Adul Sam-on, left Buenos Aires for New York to represent the group at the Asia Game Changer Awards.

Thai cave rescue: Boys share details of their traumatic experience

  • During a national TV broadcast they smiled, joked and showed solidarity with one another, as they shared details of their traumatic experience inside the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.
  • During their TV news conference, the boys said when they entered the cave on June 23 they had planned to only be inside the cave for about an hour after football practice.
  • But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
  • The boys had no food and survived only on water. They took turns digging at the cave walls, hoping to find a way out.
  • "This experience made me stronger and taught me not to give up," said the team's youngest member, who goes by the name Titan.
  • The boys will eventually spend time as novice Buddhist monks to honour the dead diver's memory, their coach said on Wednesday.
  • The Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on Saturday released a video clip on its Facebook page showing the 12 Mu Pa (Wild Boar) Academy footballers and their coach thanking everyone for their concern and help in rescuing them. Chanin Wibulrungruang (Titan), 11, said his condition was returning to normal and he would like to eat sushi. He thanked the Navy SEALs for rescuing him and thanked everyone for all the moral support.
  • They also conveyed that they were in good health and looked forward to tasting their favourite foods. The 12 youths and the coach were seen in a row of beds in the three-minute clip.
  • Pipat Phothi (Nik), 15, said he felt in good health. He said he would like to eat rice with crisp fried pork, and rice with stew red pork. He thanked the rescuers and everyone for the moral support.
  • Piraphat Sompiangchai (Night), 16, said he felt in good health and he would like to eat pork pan chabu very much. He thanked everyone for all the moral support.
  • Adul Sam-on (Dul), 14, said his condition had improved and he would like to go to a KFC shop. He said he was now killing time by drawing pictures of his friends and Coach Ek in the cave.
  • He also said in English: “I’m Adul. I’m very fine. Thank you for helping us. Thank you very much.”
  • Ekkapol Chanthawong, 25, or Coach Ek, said he his condition was improving and he now felt strong. He would like to eat fried rice with crisp pork. He said he would like to thank all the people and all the ministries and Navy SEALs as well as the doctors for helping the team.
  • Pornchai Khamluang (Tee), 16, said he would like to eat fried rice with crisp pork and would like to thank everyone for all the moral support.
  • Sompong Jaiwong (Pong), 13, said he was strong now. He would like to eat curry basil rice with fried egg. He thanked everyone for all the moral support and thanked the international community for helping the team. “Thank you,” he said in English.
  • Mongkol Boonpiam (Mark), 13, said he was now strong and could even run. He would like to eat a piece of steak. He thanked everyone for all the moral support and promised to fight on
  • This handout video grab taken from footage released by The Thai government public relations department (PRD) and Government spokesman bureau on July 11, 2018 shows members of the "Wild Boars" football team being treated at a hospital in Chiang Rai.
  • The 12 boys rescued from a Thai cave were passed "sleeping" on stretchers through the treacherous passageways, a former Thai Navy SEAL told AFP on July 11, giving the first clear details of an astonishing rescue mission that has captivated the world.
  • Doctors have said they are in good physical and mental health -- a view backed up by the footage made available by the Thai government showing them behind quarantine glass in bed wearing smocks and facemasks, flashing peace signs and doing the traditional "wai" greeting.
  • They do not look shell-shocked or stunned despite a potentially harrowing 18 days inside a dank, dark cave followed by a risky rescue operation that was dubbed "Mission Impossible".
  • A screen grab shows people looking through glass at the boys

Narongsak will accept the award on behalf of the Thai rescuers, becoming the first time any Thai has received the award.

Other awardees include the Japanese first responders who risked their lives following the tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima; the founder of the Syrian White Helmets; a global champion for "green cities" - Wang Shi of China; Dr Munjed al-Muderis, a surgeon who has brought new hope for amputees; and the founders of Koolulam, a musical phenomenon that aims to bridge the most difficult ethnic and religious divides.

The group will appear on NBC's Today Show and the Ellen Show that has Ellen DeGeneres as a host. They will also meet the Thai communities in New York.