Cave trek sup­posed to last an hour

Mon­soons turned jour­ney into life-and-death strug­gle

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS - JOHN­SON LAI and JA­SON COR­BEN The As­so­ci­ated Press

CHI­ANG RAI, Thai­land — The boys meant to ex­plore the cave for just an hour, a ca­sual jaunt to re­lax af­ter soc­cer prac­tice, but the wa­ters rose.

The team­mates climbed higher, us­ing their hands to feel the walls for a crawl space that would lead to safer, higher ground.

Those hand­prints were among the first signs of where the boys were, what they had done to es­cape the floods, and what dan­gers res­cuers would face in their mis­sion to save the boys and their coach.

The boys now re­cu­per­at­ing. The hospi­tal in north­ern Thai­land where the 12 boys and their soc­cer coach are quar­an­tined said Fri­day they’re ba­si­cally healthy, aside from some mi­nor in­fec­tions.

A psy­chi­a­trist said their men­tal state seems fine.

Fam­ily mem­bers, first able to re­unite with them only through a glass win­dow, now can meet face-to-face though still not touch, to en­sure any ill­nesses don’t spread.

Ban­phot Konkum, fa­ther of 13-year-old Duang­petch Promthep, told The As­so­ci­ated Press his son — bet­ter known by his nick­name, Dom — said the team mem­bers didn’t know rain had started fall­ing af­ter they had en­tered the cave on June 23.

But the rain caused flood­ing in the cave, block­ing their es­cape.

“Af­ter an hour when they wanted to leave, the wa­ter level was ris­ing. They ran fur­ther in­side the cave to es­cape from the wa­ter. The wa­ter flow was strong,” said Ban­phot.

In their search for a safe haven, the boys were re­ported to have used their hands to feel the walls for an open­ing to take them to a higher, safer spot.

Searchers later found what they thought were the boys’ hand­prints, giv­ing them con­fi­dence the boys were alive and that the searchers were on the right path.

“They, all 13 of them, saw a small pas­sage or a crawl space, so they all dug the hole to get through to an­other spot, un­til they found Nen Nom Sao,” Ban­phot said, re­fer­ring to the sandy slope on which they ended up shel­ter­ing.

There was nowhere else to go.

The mother of the youngest Wild Boar team­mate, 11-year old Chanin Wi­boon­run­gru­ang, told a Bangkok news­pa­per that her son told her the team didn’t make a spe­cial point of bring­ing along food since they were only plan­ning a short trek into the cave.

“Af­ter the first three nights with no food in the cave, my son felt ex­treme hunger and cried,” Aikhan told the Bangkok Post. “He had to rely only on wa­ter drip­ping from the rock. It was very cold at night and pitch dark. They had to lie hud­dled to­gether.

She said her son, nick­named Tun, said the boys’ 25-year-old soc­cer coach, Ekapol “Ake” Chan­tha­wong, told them to meditate to ease their hunger and save their en­ergy.

One of the two Bri­tish divers who found the group said the res­cue op­er­a­tion was “com­pletely un­charted, un­prece­dented ter­ri­tory,” and that he hadn’t been cer­tain the boys would be found alive.

“Noth­ing like this has been done,” Rick Stan­ton said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day at Lon­don’s Heathrow air­port af­ter re­turn­ing from Thai­land.

Re­call­ing the mo­ment on July 2 when he and div­ing part­ner John Volan­then found the boys on their 10th day in­side the cave, he said his ini­tial re­ac­tion was “of course, ex­cite­ment, re­lief that they were still alive.”

“As they were coming down the slope we were count­ing them ’til we got to 13. Un­be­liev­able,” he said. “They looked in good health, but of course when we de­parted all we could think about was how we were go­ing to get them out. And so there was re­lief tem­pered with un­cer­tainty.”

Thai boys are up­beat as they await res­cue from a flooded cave net­work ear­lier this month. AP FILES

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