‘We’ve res­cued ev­ery­one’

To save 12 boys and a coach from a re­mote cave, it took a 3-day race against Thai­land’s weather

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SHIBANI MAHTANI AND PANAPORN WUTWANICH

MAE SAI, THAI­LAND — Divers com­pared it to moun­tain climb­ing — but in tight, pitch-black spa­ces and buf­feted by swirling flood­wa­ters, tow­ing a child.

They had to guide their charges through pas­sages as nar­row as a cou­ple of feet, weighed down by bulky equip­ment. A diver in front led the way, with a boy teth­ered to him and an­other diver fol­low­ing be­hind.

Each ar­du­ous round-trip ex­trac­tion took be­tween nine and 11 hours.

Fi­nally, on Tues­day, the “al­ls­tar” team of ex­pert cave divers from at least six coun­tries com­pleted the mis­sion once feared im­pos­si­ble, pulling to safety the last of the 12 young soc­cer play­ers and their 25-year-old coach from the re­mote cave where they were ma­rooned for more than two weeks.

“We’ve res­cued ev­ery­one,” said Narongsak Osa­tanakorn, the former gov­er­nor of Chi­ang Rai prov­ince and the lead res­cue of­fi­cial, as vol­un­teers and jour­nal­ists erupted in ju­bi­lant cheers and claps. “We achieved a mis­sion im­pos­si­ble.”

The Thai navy SEALs added in a Face­book post: “We are not sure if this is a mir­a­cle, a sci­ence, or what.”

The dis­ap­pear­ance of the boys and their novice monk turned soc­cer coach from this small town on the Thai­landMyan­mar bor­der — re­mark­ably

found alive nine days af­ter they went miss­ing June 23 — launched an ex­tra­or­di­nary saga of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and in­ge­nu­ity, as ex­perts from many fields planned how to ma­neu­ver all 13 out alive.

When no clear open­ing could be found atop the moun­tain range hous­ing the cave, hav­ing the boys swim out with the 18-strong team of Bri­tish, Aus­tralian, Chi­nese, Thai, Amer­i­can and Dan­ish divers was con­sid­ered the least risky of a range of daunt­ing op­tions.

The dra­matic three-day mis­sion kicked off Sun­day af­ter days spent pre­par­ing the cave — and the boys. One diver said in a Face­book post that he had spent 63 hours in the cave sys­tem over the past nine days.

The ef­fort that swelled and gained mo­men­tum af­ter the group was found on July 2 in­volved more than 100 other res­cuers in­side the cave, 1,000 mem­bers of the Thai army and al­most 10,000 oth­ers who fa­cil­i­tated ev­ery­thing from rides up to the cave site to meals of fried chicken, eggs, and rice and noo­dle soups for divers, vol­un­teers and jour­nal­ists. In­ter­na­tional ex­perts set up res­cue com­mu­ni­ca­tions, while Thai vil­lagers set up cof­fee stalls and mas­sage sta­tions.

The mis­sion was also a race against the weather.

Res­cuers had spent days bal­anc­ing the risk of im­pend­ing mon­soons, which could have flooded the cave again, against the boys’ readi­ness, weak­ened as they were by their or­deal. Rain fell pe­ri­od­i­cally through­out the three days of ex­trac­tions, but pump­ing ef­forts were so suc­cess­ful that the amount of time the boys spent un­der­wa­ter was min­i­mized, of­fi­cials said.

Ten­sion that had gripped this small town near the site fi­nally broke Tues­day evening as the last of the am­bu­lances turned on their lights and sirens and raced down­hill from the cave. Thai po­lice lin­ing the road from the en­trance laughed and flashed thumbs-ups at the vast num­bers of news or­ga­ni­za­tions from all over the world wait­ing for this very scene.

On­look­ers cheered “Hooyah moo pa!” — a ref­er­ence to the name of the boys’ soc­cer team, Moo Pa, or Wild Boars.

A hint of set­ting sun and blue skies broke through the heavy clouds be­hind the caves as a he­li­copter whirred through the sky, car­ry­ing the last boys re­cov­ered to a hos­pi­tal in nearby Chi­ang Rai.

Thai navy SEALs and an Aus­tralian medic who had been sta­tioned with the boys for days, pre­par­ing them for their dive, were brought out of the cave soon af­ter.

On Sun­day, of­fi­cials de­cided they could no longer wait, say­ing con­di­tions were “as per­fect as they will be” for a res­cue at­tempt. Over the next three days, the boys were brought out in groups: four on the first day, four on the sec­ond day and four, plus their coach, on Tues­day.

Among those root­ing for their res­cue were world lead­ers, Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg and bil­lion­aire in­ven­tor Elon Musk, who tasked his team of en­gi­neers with build­ing a “kid­sized sub­ma­rine” made out of rocket parts that would be able to move the young boys through the cave’s nar­row pas­sage­ways.

Shortly af­ter the full res­cue was an­nounced, Pres­i­dent Trump sent a con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sage.

“On be­half of the United States, con­grat­u­la­tions to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the suc­cess­ful res­cue of the 12 boys and their coach from the treach­er­ous cave in Thai­land. Such a beau­ti­ful mo­ment — all freed, great job!” he wrote.

Doc­tors at­tend­ing to the eight boys who were res­cued Sun­day and Mon­day said they are gen­er­ally in good health. It was an in­cred­i­ble re­sult con­sid­er­ing that the boys spent nine days in­com­mu­ni­cado, with­out food, un­til

The ef­fort that swelled and gained mo­men­tum af­ter the group was found on July 2 in­volved more than 100 other res­cuers in­side the cave, 1,000 mem­bers of the Thai army and al­most 10,000 oth­ers who fa­cil­i­tated ev­ery­thing from rides up to the cave site to meals of fried chicken, eggs, and rice and noo­dle soups.

LINH PHAM/GETTY IM­AGES

In front of a hos­pi­tal in Chi­ang Rai, sup­port­ers cheer as am­bu­lances ar­rive with the last res­cued soc­cer play­ers and their coach.

SOE ZEYA TUN/REUTERS

Work­ers re­move equip­ment early Tues­day af­ter the last of the 12 soc­cer play­ers and their coach were res­cued in Chi­ang Rai prov­ince.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.