Four boys out safely
13 foreign divers, five Thai Seals take part in rescue Children emerge from cave in under four hours Others waiting turn, operation could take days
The first four boys rescued from the Tham Luang cave ordeal are now in safe hands and are under medical care at a local hospital in Chiang Rai, rescue mission chief Narongsak Osotthanakorn said yesterday.
Speaking at a briefing at 8.45pm last night, Mr Narongsak said the first three boys were airlifted by helicopter to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in Muang district after being extracted from the cave, and the fourth was taken by ambulance.
The first boy emerged from the cave at 5.40pm, followed by the second boy about 10 minutes later. The third and fourth boys later made it out at 7.40pm and 7.50pm respectively, Mr Narongsak told reporters.
“Today is the most perfect day. We’ve now seen the faces of members of the Wild Boar football team,’’ said Mr Narongsak, a Phayao governor who formerly served as the governor of Chiang Rai. “This is a great achievement.’’
However, the remaining eight boys and their 25-year-old football coach Ekkapol Chantawong remained at the ledge called Nern Nom Sao where they had been sheltering since June 23, he said.
After the four boys made it out safely, the rescue mission was called off temporarily because oxygen supplies were all used up, Mr Narongsak said. An assessment will be made in the next 10-20 hours before a decision is made about when to resume the rescue operation, he said.
About 90 rescuers were involved in the operation. Of them, 10 foreign divers escorted the four boys out of the flooded cave, three divers, also from foreign countries, were technicians, and five Thai Navy Seal members supporting the rescue bid, Mr Narongsak said.
Mr Narongsak did not disclose the identities of the rescued boys, though one report said the first two to emerge were Mongkol “Mark” Boonpium, 13, and Prachak “Note” Sutham, 14.
Also joining Thais in welcoming the happy outcome of the rescue bid, US President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that:’’ The US is working very closely with the Government of Thailand to help get all of the children out of the cave and to safety. Very brave and talented people.’’
The boys, aged 11-16, were found alive at 9.38pm last Monday after an exhausting 10-day search after they ventured into the labyrinthine cave network on June 23. Rescuers faced a moment of truth yesterday as they began an operation to evacuate the 12 trapped children and their football coach from the deep caverns.
Mr Narongsak said the boys and their coach were physically and mentally fit for the rescue bid. Water levels at many spots in the cave have fallen, providing the best chance for the rescue to be carried out, he added.
Mr Narongsak said the evacuation decision was made after consultation with all concerned, including Seal members, medical staff and families of the trapped team. Reporters were ordered to move 2 kilometres back as final rescue preparations began yesterday at Tham Luang cave.
Mr Narongsak said the rescue operation began at 10am yesterday. Rescuers navigated through flooded tunnels in the cave before reaching the ledge called Nern Nom Sao where the 13 trapped people have been sheltering above the waters. Some divers were on standby near the T-Junction or “Sam Yak” in the cavern which is 1.9 kilometres from Nern Nom Sao.
The first trapped boys began diving to get out of the cave at 2pm, he said. Early reports predicted it would take six hours to get them out.
He added that Thai Seals, and rescuers, divers from the US, Australia, China and Europe were also based in Chamber 3 and all the way back to the cave’s entrance to support the rescue bid.
The boys have no diving experience and some cannot even swim. They have received training in recent days in preparation for the extraction effort, but to get out they have to swim using scuba gear through fast-flowing water in darkness, a challenge for even elite divers.
After energy-sapping efforts navigating jagged tunnels and clambering up or down rock walls for this distance, they confront Sam Yak which is 1.9 kilometres from the shelf where the boys have been sheltering, according to AFP. “The biggest crisis spot for diving is on the left from the T-Junction,” Mr Narongsak said in a briefing on July 2. “There is a tunnel that has a passageway going up and coming down narrowly and you have to turn a bit and it’s very small.”
After that though, the tunnels widen, the waters subside, and walking is even possible, according to authorities, with the rest of the journey expected to be relatively safe as they will have reached a forward operating base inside the cave, according to AFP.
Four helicopters were yesterday ready to airlift the 13 from the cave mouth to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in Muang district, under the rescue operation plans. The choppers, belonging to the Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Army, were at two makeshift landing pads near the cave, to where 13 ambulances would deliver the patients once they reached the surface.
They would then fly them to Wing 416 in Muang district, a journey of between seven and 10 minutes. From there, ambulances would transport them to the hospital, which is about one kilometre away.
If weather obstructs the airlift, the backup option is an overland journey, driving directly from the cave to the hospital, a distance of about 70 kilometres. The trip would take about one hour by road.
Roads from Wing 416 to Chiangrai Prachanukroh hospital were partially closed for the final stage of the rescue operation yesterday as rescuers launched the treacherous evacuation operation from the bowels of the cave.
Gen Pramote Imwattana, of the Army Medical Department, said the boys were given an initial assessment by doctors and nurses at the entrance of the cave. Thirteen fully staffed medical teams are stationed outside the cave — one for each of the boys and their coach. Medical staff say their first assessment will focus on the boys’ breathing and signs of hypothermia. They will also check for an airborne lung infection known as cave disease, which is caused by bat and bird droppings.
Thongchai Le rtwilai rattan apong, an inspector-general of the Public Health Ministry in charge of Chiang Rai, said the hospital had conducted drills.
Today is the most perfect day. We’ve now seen the faces of members of the Wild Boar football team ... This is a great achievement.
NARONGSAK OSOTTHANAKORN RESCUE MISSION CHIEF