Thai cave rescue: These are the heroes who made it all possible

PHOTO: Facebook/AnindyaGhose

After more than two weeks of being trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave that culminated in a gruelling three-day rescue operation, all 12 boys and their football coach are finally free.

Divers had braved narrow crevices and strong currents to reach the group -- a feat even for the most skilled of rescuers -- while the rest of the world watched with bated breath.

Following the successful rescue mission that "the world will never forget", the Thai navy SEALs posted on Facebook: "We are not sure if this is a miracle, or science, or what.All the 13 Wild Boars are now out of the cave."

Top row from left: Chanin Vibulrungruang, 11; Mongkol Booneiam, 12 or 13; Somepong Jaiwong, 13; Panumas Sangdee, 13; Duganpet Promtep, 13; Middle row from left: Ekarat Wongsukchan, 14; Adul Sam-on, 14; Nattawut Takamrong, 14; Pipat Pho, 15; Prajak Sutham, 15; Bottom row from left: Pornchai Kamluang, 16; Peerapat Sompiangjai, 17; and their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, 25. (Photos: Facebook)

All 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach are receiving medical care at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital.

Despite losing an average of 2kg during their ordeal, most of them are otherwise in good health and "not stressed".

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

At a news conference after the rescue, operation chief Mr Narongsak Osatanakorn said: "We have done something that no one expected that we could complete. It was an impossible mission."

On Tuesday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took to Facebook to express his delight and relief over the mission's success.

Delighted & relieved that the 12 Thai boys & their football coach have been successfully rescued from the Tham Luang...

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Calling it a "remarkable display of the strength of the human spirit", PM Lee added: "It is an inspiring tale of what different nations and groups can achieve by working together."

Social media and news outlets have also commended those who made the rescue mission possible, from divers who were directly involved in the hazardous operation to everyday people who contributed what they could.

Here is a list of real-life heroes who deserve recognition for saving 13 lives, as compiled by Facebook user Anindya Ghose.

1. British cave explorer Vern Unsworth

Having been in Tham Luang cave multiple times, Mr Vern Unsworth used his expert knowledge to lead rescuers to the stranded team's location.

Based in Chiang Rai, he also roped in some of the world's best divers to join the search.

Without him, the rescue mission might have never come to fruition, according to the Facebook post.

2. Coach Ekapol Chanthawong

Despite losing his entire family at the tender age of 10, assistant coach Ekapol Chanthawong remained resilient, trained as a monk and devoted his life to helping children.

He has been credited for helping the 12 boys to survive in the cave by teaching them meditation, giving them all his food and most of his water before rescuers located the group.

3. Former Thai Navy SEAL diver Saman Guran

Former military diver Saman Guran died on July 5 while delivering oxygen tanks to the cave.

The 38-year-old became unconscious, reportedly due to a lack of oxygen, and was declared dead after unsuccessful attempts to revive him.

4. British cave divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton

Universally regarded as the best cave divers in the world, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton gallantly led the peril-fraught operation.

And it's not their first time participating in risky rescue missions to save lives either.

5. Farmers living near the cave

Farmers residing near the cave had no qualms sacrificing their fields and livelihood so that water could be pumped out from the caves.

This was even though it meant losing an entire year's worth of crops.

6. Locals who cooked and delivered food

For over two weeks, volunteers cooked and delivered food to the rescue team -- for free.

No distance was too great, as they cycled and biked from hundreds of kilometres away.

7. A woman who cooked Halal food

Realising that Muslim cave divers would require Halal food, a Muslim woman solved that need with her selflessness.

Working with a team, she cooked and provided the team with free Halal meals.

8. A local laundry shop owner

This woman and her team of cleaners took care of the rescuers' clothes.

She helped to wash and dry-clean their clothing every day, also for free.

9. A local dive shop owner

A small business owner supplied the rescue team with free oxygen tanks and diving gear.

10. Hundreds of volunteers

Volunteers tirelessly involved in the mission were said to have numbered hundreds. They include bird nest collectors and a water pumping team.

ALSO READ: Thai cave rescue: Birds-nest collectors, water pump operators return home to applause

"They come in all shapes and sizes," said the Facebook post.

Added the Facebook user: "Sometimes, the worst of times brings out the best in people."

And as the saying goes, not all heroes wear capes.

Touching memes celebrate success of #ThaiCaveRescue mission