Thai cave rescue: Diver hails 'incredibly strong' boys

Thai cave rescue: Diver hails 'incredibly strong' boys
PHOTO: Reuters

MAE SAI, THAILAND - A foreign diver involved in the mission to save 12 boys and their football coach from a flooded Thai cave has hailed the children as "incredibly strong", and described their treacherous escape journey as unprecedented.

"They are getting forced to do something that no kid has ever done before. It is not in any way normal for kids to go cave diving at age 11," Mr Ivan Karadzic, who runs a diving business in Thailand, told the BBC in an interview that was published online on Tuesday (July 10).

"They are diving in something considered (an) extremely hazardous environment in zero visibility, the only light that is in there is the torch light we bring our self."

The boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, ventured into the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on June 23 after football practice and became trapped when heavy rains flooded the cave.

Two British divers found them nine days later huddled on a muddy ledge in pitch darkness more than four kilometres inside the cave system.

Authorities then gathered 90 divers, 50 of them foreigners, to help extract the boys out of a claustrophobic tunnel network that in some places was completely filled with water and so narrow that they could only be squeezed through.

Conditions were so dangerous that a retired Thai Navy SEAL died on Friday while trying to lay out oxygen tanks underwater in a tunnel, and the rescue chief at one point dubbed the operation "Mission Impossible".

Adding to the dangers, most of the boys could not swim, and none had scuba diving experience.

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.

However, the divers escorted eight of the boys out on Sunday and Monday, and authorities said they were aiming to extract the remaining members of the group on Tuesday.

Mr Karadzic, who the BBC reported was stationed near a difficult stretch of the cave about half-way along the escape route to replace oxygen tanks and help guide people through, said the rescue workers had feared the worst.

"We were obviously very afraid of any kind of panic from the divers," he said, adding he was in awe of the boys' ability to stay calm.

"I cannot understand how cool these small kids are, you know? Thinking about how they've been kept in a small cave for two weeks, they haven't seen their mums. Incredibly strong kids. Unbelievable almost."

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