Thai cave rescue: Boys were sedated and stretchered through Tham Luang cave

Thai cave rescue: Boys were sedated and stretchered through Tham Luang cave
This handout video grab taken from footage released by the Royal Thai Navy on July 11, 2018 shows a member of the "Wild Boars" Thai youth football team being moved on a stretcher during a rescue operation inside the Tham Luang cave.
PHOTO: AFP

CHIANG RAI - The 12 boys rescued from a Thai cave were sedated and passed on stretchers along the twisting, narrow passageways of the Tham Luang complex, a rescuer said on Wednesday (July 12) as the first footage emerged of an astonishing mission that has captivated the world.

The video of the rescue, which ended on Tuesday when the final four boys and their 25-year-old coach emerged from the cave, was released by authorities who had until late Wednesday closely guarded the details of the seemingly unprecedented operation.

Other video footage shows several of the boys in hospital, in quarantine and wearing face masks but seemingly in good health as they nodded, waved and flashed peace signs to the camera.

First footage shows how trapped footballers were rescued

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    The Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page on Wednesday released a video clip that shows for the first time how the 13 Mu Pa Academy football team members were evacuated from the Tham Luang cave.

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    The 12 young footballers and their 25-year-old assistant coach were trapped in the cave since June 23 after flash floods blocked their exit.

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    They were rescued after a marathon operation involving Thai and foreign experts. The mission ended on June 10.

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    The video showed the boys being extracted from inside the flooded cave amid darkness in what was described as the first time such a method was used in a rescue operation.

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    The footage gave an insight into a complex operation that had numerous divers using pulleys, ropes and rubber piping to take the stranded footballers to safety.

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    The 12 boys rescued from a Thai cave were sedated and passed on stretchers along the twisting, narrow passageways of the Tham Luang complex, a rescuer said on Wednesday (July 12).

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The nerve-shredding three-day operation ended on Tuesday when the final members of the "Wild Boars" were freed from the cave which had held them captive since June 23.

The rescue sparked jubilation with Thais heaping praise on the rescue team of foreign and local divers as the triumphant tagline "Hooyah" pinballed across social media.

But Thai authorities have been coy on how a group of boys, many of whom could not swim and none with diving experience, could have navigated the treacherous narrow and submerged passageways of the Tham Luang complex, even with expert diving support.

Thai cave rescue: How each boy is extracted in complex process

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    The 10-km long Tham Luang cave, which has been described as a labyrinth, sits near the Thai border with Myanmar.

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    Rescue divers began operations on Sunday (July 8) to extract the 12 boys and their football coach from the massive Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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    Here's how the 12 boys might dive and walk out of the complex cave network. (Graphic Not drawn to scale)

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    The boys are located more than 4km from the mouth of the cave. Most of the boys don't know how to swim.

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    According to experts, divers required three hours to reach the boys from the mouth of the cave, Reuters reported. The boys' ordeal is expected to last 3 or more hours.

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    This undated handout photo taken recently and released by the Royal Thai Navy on July 7, 2018 shows a Thai Navy diver in the cave during rescue operations.

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    The boys will have to first dive for 400m before reaching Pattaya Beach, a chamber more than 4km from the cave's entrance. Then, they have to dive for another 130m before walking and climbing along a 400m-long dry area.

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    The first, nearly 1km-long section from where the boys have been huddling in darkness is believed to be the most difficult, requiring a long dive and crawling through mud and debris, with some crevices barely wide enough for a person.

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    The 5-km escape route cuts through dark, flooded and narrow passageways, as this still from a video circulating online shows.

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    How each boy will be tethered to the 2 adult rescue divers. Once past the first stretch, the boys' escape route forks east at a T-junction, and they must scrabble over some diverse terrain including giant boulders, sand and slippery rocks with sudden cliff-like drops and further submerged passageways.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    "The hole is really small, I have to take off my air tank to crawl through it," a 25-year-old Thai Navy Seal told Reuters before the rescue attempt. "As I do, I feel the edges of the hole on both my back and chest."

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    Rescue divers will have to remove their scuba tanks and roll them along while guiding the boys through. After that though, the tunnels widen, the waters subside, and walking is even possible.

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    There are several 'choke points' in the complex cave network. After the dreaded T-junction, the rest of the journey is expected to be relatively safe as they will have reached a forward operating base inside the cave.

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    Ambulances wait at the mouth of the cave to whisk the boys away to hospital when they emerge.

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    Divers resuming the rescue mission on Monday (July 9).

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    Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018.

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    Rescuers venturing into the cave in a photo released on July 7 by the Thai Royal Navy.

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    The high-risk operation at the Tham Luang caves paused overnight on Sunday (July 8) as rescuers recovered and oxygen tanks were replenished along the route.

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    Torchlight only affords visibility up to three feet in the murky waters.

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    A nearby hospital ready to receive the boys after they are rescued.

After days of mounting speculation, a former Thai Navy Seal diver broke the silence, revealing the boys were sleeping or partially-conscious as they were passed from diver-to-diver through the cave.

"Some of them were asleep, some of them were wiggling their fingers... (as if) groggy, but they were breathing," Commander Chaiyananta Peeranarong told AFP.

"My job was to transfer them along," he said, adding the "boys were wrapped up in stretchers already when they were being transferred" and were monitored at regular intervals by doctors posted along the kilometres-long escape route.

He did not say if the coach, the only adult with the boys for nine days before they found, was able to dive and walk out unaided.

Footage released by the Thai Navy Seals showed foreign and Thai divers using pulleys, ropes and rubber piping to haul stretchers bearing two of the barely moving young footballers to safety, their exit framed by the jagged cave overhead.

Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday said the boys had been given a "minor tranquiliser" to prevent anxiety during the complex extraction bid.

But he had denied they were knocked out for an operation the chief of the rescue had dubbed "mission impossible".

The rescue was fraught with danger, a point underscored last Friday by the death of a retired Thai Navy SEAL diver as he ran out of air in the flooded cave complex.

ALSO READ: Thai cave rescue: 'You are the hero in my heart', says wife of dead diver

Then, with the final divers slowly exiting the cave on Tuesday, the pumps suddenly failed pushing the water level up towards head height in a previously wadeable section of the cave."If you didn't use the water pump in that location, you could only come out with an oxygen tank," ex-Seal Commander Chaiyananta said.

That left 20 or so divers scrambling to flee the rising waters, he said, explaining they narrowly made it out time.

SAGA GRIPS THE WORLD

Thailand spent Wednesday celebrating the successful mission.

It received blanket coverage in Thai media with newspaper The Nation running the headline "Hooyah! Mission accomplished" and the Bangkok Post emblazoned with "All Wild Boars saved".

Touching memes celebrate success of #ThaiCaveRescue mission

Despite spending days in the dark, dank, cave health officials said the boys - who are aged 11 to 16 - are in good physical and mental health and eating normal food.

"It might be because they were all together as a team," public health ministry inspector general Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong told reporters.

The saga of the "Wild Boars" gripped the world, with the lives of the group hanging in the balance as the threat of heavy rain injected urgency to an already perilous extraction bid.

Closer to home, Chiang Rai locals rejoiced at the odds-upsetting rescue bid.

Duangduen Sittiwongsa, a classmate of 16-year-old Pheeraphat "Night" Sompiengjai, whose birthday fell on the same day the team entered the cave, said they would give him cake when he came back to school."We will sing a song for him," she said.

RISKY RESCUE

Rescuers had weighed up several options to save the boys, including keeping them in the cave through the months-long monsoon season.

But they were prodded into the dangerous task of bringing the team through submerged chambers and claustrophobic passages as oxygen levels in the cave plummeted and rains menaced.

The group were taken out in three batches by a team of 13 international divers flanked by the Thai Navy SEALs, who greeted each successful rescue with a "Hooyah" on their Facebook page.

ALSO READ: Video shows crowd cheering as last few Thai Navy Seal divers and rescuers exit from cave

That sign off quickly turned into a hashtag shared across social media, where luminaries of business, politics and sport extended their best wishes to the team and the rescuers.

 

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