Thai cave rescue: 'Hang in there!' Once-trapped Chilean miner tells stranded boys

Thai cave rescue: 'Hang in there!' Once-trapped Chilean miner tells stranded boys
PHOTO: AFP

MEXICO CITY - Mario Sepulveda, one of the Chilean miners who was trapped underground for 69 days in 2010, had a moving message of encouragement Wednesday (July 4) for the boys' football team trapped in a cave in Thailand: "Hang in there!"

In a video message sent to AFP, Sepulveda - known as "Super Mario" for helping keep his comrades' spirits up during their ordeal - said his thoughts were with the 12 boys and their coach, so much so that he is trying to organise a trip to Thailand to help.

The mission to rescue the football team from their flooded cave has resurrected memories of the Chilean mining accident eight years ago.

Then, the world held its breath as Sepulveda and 32 others survived nearly 10 weeks underground before finally being hauled to the surface one by one.

Dressed in a yellow vest, orange miner's helmet and headlamp, Sepulveda sent a brief but energetic message to the members of the Wild Boar football team in a 40-second video.

"Mucha fuerza!" he told them - which roughly translates as "Hang in there" or "Much strength."

Photo: AFP

He said he was trying to raise funds to travel to Thailand himself and help the rescue effort however he can.

"I'm going to see what's possible. I'm calling someone from the (Chilean) government to try to get some money together. I think it's important as a country for us to be there, after what we miners went through," he told AFP during a visit to Mexico City.

"I would love to go. I think it would be extremely important to support the families, give them a hug. Words of encouragement are important."

Also read: Thailand cave rescue: What now for the boys?

MEMORIES OF 2010

The trapped boys, who range in age from 11 to 16, were exploring the cave with their coach 11 days ago after football training when rising flood waters trapped them inside.

British divers found them on Monday night, huddling on a muddy ledge above surging underground waters, more than 4km inside one of the country's longest caves. A new video on Wednesday showed them in good spirits.

A massive international rescue operation is exploring the options to get them out, none of them simple - just like in the case of the miners trapped in 2010.

"I don't have the slightest doubt that if the (Thai) government give it everything they have and make every humanly possible effort, the rescue will be a success," said Sepulveda, a gregarious dynamo who speaks in a swirling torrent of words.

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

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    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.

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    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.

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

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    “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.”

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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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).

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    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

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    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,

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

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    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.

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    But the search has so far yielded no other trace.

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

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

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

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

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    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.

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

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

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

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

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FROM HELL TO HOLLYWOOD

Rescuers say there are three main options to extract the boys: diving out of the cave system, exiting through another hole if one can be found - or drilled - or waiting out the monsoon season underground.

Diving out is risky, since the boys have never dived before and some may not be able to swim. Sepulveda urged the authorities to waste no time and spare no expense.

"What we need here is for the Thai government to put in a lot of money, and whoever else wants to donate, and get professional divers in there to get those boys out now," he said.

"They need to teach them to dive as quickly as possible."

Sepulveda, 47, was one of the leaders of the miners trapped underground at the San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile's Atacama desert.

Today, the married father of two has reinvented himself as a motivational speaker.

He was portrayed by Spanish heartthrob Antonio Banderas in the 2015 film about the miners' ordeal, "The 33".

Also read: Fresh navy video shows Thai cave boys in 'good health'

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