Brit diver tells of ‘mas­sive re­lief ’ at un­prece­dented Thai cave rescue

Oman Daily Observer - - ASIA -

CHI­ANG RAI: The Bri­tish diver who found 12 Thai boys and their coach trapped alive in a flooded cave has de­scribed his “mas­sive re­lief” as he counted them one by one, spark­ing a rescue bid un­prece­dented in its dar­ing and com­plex­ity.

The young “Wild Boars” and their 25-year-old foot­ball coach Ekkapol Chanta­wong wan­dered into the cave on June 23.

Sud­den flood­wa­ters forced them to re­treat deep into the Tham Luang com­plex, spark­ing a des­per­ate hunt that seized the world’s at­ten­tion un­til they were all safely ex­tracted on July 10, af­ter a nail-bit­ing three-day mis­sion.

The suc­cess of the rescue op­er­a­tion has even stunned its ar­chi­tects — ex­pert divers who bat­tled muddy, rush­ing flood­wa­ters for days to reach the group and even­tu­ally ex­tract them.

Richard Stan­ton, one of a pair of Bri­tish cav­ing ex­perts who found the boys, gave re­porters on Fri­day a first-hand ac­count of the mo­ment he saw them emerge from be­hind a rock face onto a muddy ledge kilo­me­tres in­side the Tham Luang cave.

“That was a mas­sive, mas­sive re­lief. Ini­tially we weren’t cer­tain they were all alive — as they were com­ing down I was count­ing them un­til I got to 13,” he said af­ter his ar­rival at Lon­don’s Heathrow Air­port.

Grainy footage of the mo­ment Stan­ton and John Volan­then dis­cov­ered the di­shev­elled and ema­ci­ated group has be­come the sym­bol of a re­mark­able sur­vival story — that has al­ready piqued the in­ter­est of Hol­ly­wood film pro­duc­ers.

But the mis­sion would last a fur­ther eight days, with the risk of ex­tract­ing the weak­ened group through flooded, tight, twist­ing pas­sage­ways in­ten­si­fied by the risk of fresh rains and fall­ing oxy­gen lev­els in­side the cave.

The mis­sion was “an or­der of dif­fi­culty much higher than any­thing that’s been ac­com­plished any­where around the world by any other cave div­ing team,” said Stan­ton.

A for­mer Thai Navy diver died try­ing to es­tab­lish an air­line to the group just two days be­fore the rescue bid was launched.

The boys are re­cu­per­at­ing from their ordeal in Chi­ang Rai hos­pi­tal, ap­par­ently in good spir­its with doc­tors on Fri­day say­ing they were sleep­ing and eat­ing well and able to re­ceive vis­its from close rel­a­tives.

The fa­ther of Duang­petch Promthep, or “Dom”, cast light on how their sur­vival hung in the bal­ance in the nine days be­fore they were found.

“When the boys were hun­gry, coach Ek shone his torch­light up to­wards the sta­lac­tites, telling them to drink the water drip­ping down,” Ban­pot Promthep told re­porters late on Thurs­day.

He said the boys were “ec­static” when the two divers ap­peared in front of the ledge where they had sought sanc­tu­ary, crowd­ing to the front of the bank to greet their res­cuers. Thai au­thor­i­ties have only re­leased par­tial in­for­ma­tion about the bold op­er­a­tion to free the team, heav­ily re­strict­ing ac­cess to the boys and their fam­i­lies.

But in a strik­ing coda to an al­ready as­ton­ish­ing tale, a for­mer Thai Navy SEAL said the boys were “sleep­ing” as they were passed from divers or on pul­leys as they ex­ited the cave in stretch­ers.

Thai junta leader Prayut Chao-cha had pre­vi­ously said the boys were given a mild tran­quil­liser but de­nied they were se­dated.

Yet footage cir­cu­lated by the SEAL team showed boys seem­ingly un­con­scious in wet­suits and div­ing gear be­ing car­ried over rocky pas­sage­ways.

While sev­eral res­cuers have said the boys were trans­ported on stretch­ers for the whole hours-long ex­trac­tion jour­ney, all were un­will­ing to go on the record about the is­sue of se­da­tion.

The pres­ence of Aus­tralian anaes­thetist and diver Richard “Harry” Har­ris points to a unique op­er­a­tion.

That was a mas­sive, mas­sive re­lief. Ini­tially we weren’t cer­tain they were all alive — as they were com­ing down I was count­ing them un­til I got to 13

RICHARD STAN­TON Bri­tish cav­ing ex­pert af­ter his ar­rival at Lon­don’s Heathrow Air­port

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