Thailand cave rescue: what has happened so far

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Rescue bid enter second day, with nine of ‘Wild Boars’ still inside after elite divers guided four out

The biggest challenge will be navigating a very tight section of the tunnel where a sharp upward bend is follo

The biggest challenge will be navigating a very tight section of the tunnel where a sharp upward bend is following

Mae Sai: A treacherous rescue bid to free a youth football team trapped in a flooded Thai cave entered its second day on Monday, with nine of the “Wild Boars” still inside after elite divers guided four out.

Looming rain was one of the main enemies of the operation, threatening to flood the cave complex in mountainous northern Thailand, although a bewildering array of other dangers could also doom their safe return.

 Thailand has waited anxiously for news of the safe return of the boys and their 25-year-old coach since they became trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex on June 23, in a saga that has dominated global headlines.

They spent nine days unaccounted for inside the cave, before British divers found the emaciated and dishevelled group huddling on a muddy bank.

On Sunday four members of the “Wild Boar” team were successfully brought out from the cave, after authorities decided they had to rush ahead with a rescue operation to beat monsoon rains.

They were guided by expert divers who plotted the hours-long escape through more than four kilometres of twisting passageways and flooded chambers.

Rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn on Sunday said four of the team – affectionately dubbed by Thai social media Wild Boars 1,2,3,4 – were “safe” but released few details about their condition or identities.

He said the extraction effort would likely resume early Monday.

“We’ve been working continuously overnight,” a Chiang Rai government source told AFP on Monday morning, requesting anonymity, and confirming that there had only been a pause of the actual extraction operations.

Agonising wait

With authorities releasing few details of the rescue bid, parents continued their agonising wait to be reunited with their sons.

“I am still waiting here at the cave, keeping my fingers crossed to see whether my son will be one of those to come out today,” Supaluk Sompiengjai, a mother of Pheeraphat – known by his nickname “Night” – told AFP.

“We heard four boys are out but we do not know who they are. Many parents are still here waiting. None of us has been informed of anything.”

But she added she was “happy” at the prospect of seeing her son again.

To get the boys out, divers will be forced by the narrow passages to accompany them one at a time.

None of the boys have scuba diving experience and experts have warned they could easily panic while swimming underwater in darkness.

4 of 13 rescued

The mother of one of the boys reportedly freed in the northern Thailand cave rescue has said she is sleeping at the cave site as she waits for confirmation her son was among the first four children to make it out

Four boys were freed from the cave in an eight-hour operation on Sunday after spending more than two weeks stranded by water on high ground about  3.2 kilometres inside. They are recovering in hospital in the nearby city of Chiang Rai.

Authorities have not named the boys who had rescued – not even to the parents of the group, said Namhom Boonpiam, the mother of Mongkhol Boonpiam.

Mongkhol, 14, has been named by Thai media as one of the boys who was freed on Sunday.

Namhom said she had only learned he may have been freed from reports on social media, which the families are tracking from the cave site.
“I just heard his name, Mongkhol, and I was happy enough,” she said.

She was sleeping at the cave site with many of the other parents and had not yet thought about what she would say once she saw him. “Let me meet him first,” she said.

Ninety divers, 50 foreign and 40 Thai, are involved in the rescue operation, said an official. The first boy exited the cave at 17.40 local time.

Four boys among a group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on Sunday, authorities said, revising earlier reports of six rescues.

Thai official heading the cave rescue operation says the healthiest have been taken out first and the operation is going better than expected. However, he added, rescue workers need ‘about 10 hours’ to prepare for next operation.

The first two boys emerged about nightfall from the Tham Luang cave complex after navigating a treacherous escape route of more than four kilometres through twisting, narrow and jagged passageways.

They were followed shortly afterwards by two others, leading to an explosion of jubilation on social media in Thailand and around the world as the rescued boys were rushed to hospital.

“Six of them came out,” a defence ministry official, who asked not to be named, initially told AFP.

Foreign elite divers and Thai Navy SEALS on Sunday morning began the complex operation to extract the 12 boys and their football coach as they raced against time, with imminent monsoon rains threatening more flooding that would doom the mission.

“Today is the D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges,” rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near the cave site on Sunday morning.

The group became trapped in a cramped chamber deep inside Tham Luang in a mountainous area of northern Thailand on June 23, when they went in after football practice and got caught behind rising waters.

Their plight transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, as authorities struggled to devise a plan to get the boys – aged between 11 and 16 – and their 25-year-old coach out.

‘Mission impossible’

The rescue of the first four was a stunning victory in an operation Narongsak had earlier dubbed “Mission Impossible”, and led to cautious optimism that the others would also be saved.

Another official involved in the rescue operation said the initial kids who had been saved formed a first group.

A second group made up of the others had also begun the journey from the chamber where they had been trapped, a rescue worker told AFP.

The quick extraction came as a surprise after one of the operation commanders said on Sunday morning the rescue efforts could take several days to complete.

The group was found dishevelled and hungry by British cave diving specialists nine days after they ventured in.

Initial euphoria over finding the boys alive quickly turned into deep anxiety as rescuers struggled to find a way to get them out.

The death of a former Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of oxygen in the cave on Friday underscored the danger of the journey even for professionals.

After a short deluge of rain on Saturday night and with more bad weather forecast, Narongsak on Sunday said authorities had to act immediately.

“There is no other day that we are more ready than today,” he said. “Otherwise we will lose the opportunity.”

Between the base camp inside the cave and the trapped boys were twisting, turning cave passageways with torrents of water gushing through.

The water in the cave was muddy and unclear, with one diver comparing it to a cafe latte. Ropes were installed to help guide the boys through the darkness.

Narongsak said Sunday morning two divers would escort each of the boys out of the cave.

Rescue efforts

Officials had looked at many different ways to save the boys and their coach.

One early potential plan was to leave them there for months until the monsoon season ended and the floods subsided completely, but that idea was scrapped over concerns about falling oxygen levels and waters rising too high.

More than 100 exploratory holes were also bored – some shallow, but the longest 400-metres deep – into the mountainside in an attempt to open a second evacuation route and avoid forcing the boys into the dangerous dive.

American technology entrepreneur Elon Musk even deployed engineers from his private space exploration firm SpaceX and Boring Co. to help.

Meanwhile rescuers fed a kilometres-long air pipe into the cave to restore oxygen levels in the chamber where the team was sheltering with medics and divers.

Biggest danger in escape bid

The boys and their coach will have to squeeze through an extremely narrow tunnel in pitch blackness – the main “crisis” point that looms near the end of their treacherous escape bid.

Authorities have highlighted the tiny passageway near T-Junction, or Sam Yak in Thai, as the most dangerous element of the journey for the “Wild Boars” team that began Sunday morning, but there are many other potential pitfalls.

The rescue effort is likely to take two to three days to complete, Major General Chalongchai Chaiyakorn, an army commander, told reporters, adding it “depends on other factors like the weather”.

Here are some of the challenges that the boys and their coach will face leaving the cave they ventured into on June 23, becoming trapped more than four kilometres from the entrance because of monsoon rains.

Diving ability

The boys, aged from 11 and 16, have no diving experience and some can not even swim. They have received training in recent days in preparation for the extraction effort, but they will have to swim using scuba gear through fast-flowing water in darkness, a challenge for even elite divers.

Thai cave rescue: a timeline

Here is a timeline of the efforts to find and free the group.

Saturday, June 23: The youngsters, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach enter the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand during heavy rains after football practice.

They are reported missing by a mother after her son does not come home that night. Local officials find bicycles locked to a fence and shoes and football boots close to the entrance.

Sunday, June 24: Park officials and police find handprints and footprints believed to belong to the boys. Relatives start to keep a vigil outside the cave.

Monday, June 25: Thai Navy SEAL divers enter the cave searching for the boys. Makeshift shrines are set up for parents to pray and make offerings as heavy rains continue.

Tuesday, June 26: Divers reach a T-junction several kilometres inside the cave but are forced back by rushing floodwaters that clog a narrow crevice near an elevated air pocket called “Pattaya Beach”, where the boys are believed to have retreated.

Wednesday, June 27: A team of more than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command arrive, including pararescue and survival specialists. They are joined by three British diving experts who enter the cave but quickly retreat in the face of heavy flooding.

Thursday, June 28: The underwater rescue is temporarily halted after downpours bring fast-moving floods inside the cave. Water pumps are shipped in to drain the rising, murky floodwaters and drones are dispatched to help find new vents in the cave roof.

Friday, June 29: Thailand’s junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha visits the site, leads a meditation and jokes and cooks with relatives, asking them not to give up hope.

Saturday, June 30: A break in the rain allows divers to reach further inside the cave but they are still a long distance from where the boys are believed to be.

Sunday, July 1: Divers inch further into the cave, as an operating base is set up inside and hundreds of air tanks and other supplies are pulleyed in.

Monday, July 2: Finally, a miracle: the 12 boys and their coach are found alive late Monday evening about 400 metres beyond Pattaya Beach. Crowds at the teeming rescue site cheer the good news, but attention soon turns to the difficult task of getting the boys out safely.

Tuesday, July 3: Much-needed food and medical supplies – including high-calorie gels and paracetamol – reach the boys as rescuers prepare for the possibility that they may remain in the cave for some time.

Wednesday, July 4: Officials say the group are being taught how to use diving masks and breathing apparatuses. Teams pump out water around the clock as more rain is forecast for the days ahead.

Thursday, July 5: In a sign of increased urgency, authorities say expected rains may force a complex rescue quicker than first thought. A team of bird’s nest collectors scour the mountainside in search of new openings into the cave roof.

Friday, July 6: Tragedy strikes: a diver helping to establish an airline to the boys dies after passing out while returning from the chamber. Saman Kunan’s death raises serious doubts over the safety of attempting a rescue through the cave’s cramped and waterlogged passageways.

Thailand’s Navy SEAL commander says oxygen levels inside have dropped. He warns the window of opportunity to free the youngsters is “limited”, in the first official admission that the rescue cannot wait out the monsoon rains.

Saturday, July 7: Rescue operation chief Narongsak Osottanakorn says it is “not suitable” yet to have the boys dive to safety. A scrawled message emerges from the team’s coach, offering his “apologies” to their parents. The head of the rescue mission says more than 100 vents are being drilled into the mountainside in a frantic bid to reach the boys.

Sunday, July 8: Authorities announce that, with more heavy rain expected soon, the extraction operation has begun. Thirteen “world class” foreign divers and Thai Navy Seals enter the cave as the rescue begins.

They say the first boy is expected out at 9pm (1400 GMT) but that the operation would take two to three days to complete, and that the weather would also play a role in the timeframe.

Courtesy : Gulfnews

 

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