Thai schoolboy rescue
Australians rally in the rescue efforts to bring all 12 boys and their coach safely home
AS THE EIGHTH BOY EMERGED from the cave system in northern Thailand on July 9, hopes soared that rescuers would make a clean sweep of safely bringing out all 12 soccer players and their coach. At press time, experts and divers, including a team of Australians headed by Dr Richard Harris—who cleared the boys for their exit mission—had triumphed, saving eight members of the Wild Boars team, who had been trapped in the flooded Tham Luang caves for 16 days. With each rescue effort, the expectations of families and the hundreds of volunteers at the cave site of a successful outcome continued to grow. “Watching the elation of the volunteers here ... it’s loud, it’s tangible, it’s full of joy and a wonderful thing to watch,” says Seven news journalist Chris Reason, reporting from the rescue site. But for parents, Reason tells WHO, the wait continued beyond the boys’ rescue as the young footballers were kept in a hospital isolation ward. “Mainstream media here has reported the parents have seen the boys,” Reason says. “But they have not been able to touch them, hold them, hug them, kiss them ... all the things the parents and the boys would want to do.” It was expected the boys would remain in isolation anywhere between 48 hours and seven days while they underwent medical tests. “Sanitary conditions would not have been good,” says Reason.
The painstaking operation to rescue the boys has mesmerised audiences around the world. While rescues usually focus on saving the weakest first, it is believed authorities
decided to bring the strongest boys out first to make sure they could “hold up” within the rescue plan. “What they were asking the boys to do was something extraordinarily physically and mentally challenging beyond anything those boys had gone through,” says Reason. He said the mental fortitude of the terrified boys, aged between 11 and 17, was largely due to coach Ekapol Chantawong, 25, a Buddhist who helped keep them calm during their two weeks in the cave. “He taught them meditation and was using those techniques inside and that was apparently really helping the boys deal with their fears in those conditions,” says Reason, describing Ekapol as an “extraordinary young man.”
After the first missions delivered eight boys in two stages, authorities implored the rain god Phra Pirun for continued mercy. Regional Commander Major General Bancha Duriyapan said: “If I ask too much, he might not provide it. So I’ve been asking for three days.” Despite increasing rain, Reason says the downpour was not dampening the hopes of those involved in the rescue. “There’s certainly more optimism now than a week ago.” •
Up to 100 experts were in the caves at all times during the rescue.
The first four boys rescued walked out of the cave entrance, but the second group were stretchered out.
Thailand’s king has ordered a funeral with full honours for Sgt. Major Gunan, who died on July 6.
Two of the boys were flown by helicopter to hospital.
Dive expert Dr Richard Harris is one of 19 Australians involved in the rescue mission. The South Australian medic and cave diver helped assess the boys’ physical readiness for the hazardous task of exiting the cave system.