Thai school­boy res­cue

Aus­tralians rally in the res­cue ef­forts to bring all 12 boys and their coach safely home

WHO - - Contents -

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.

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