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

Bangkok Post - - FRONT PAGE - DUMRONGKIAT MALA WASSANA NANUAM

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

PATIPAT JANTHONG

An am­bu­lance trans­ports one of the trapped boys from Chi­ang Rai air­port to the Chi­an­grai Prachanukroh Hos­pi­tal yes­ter­day evening. He was air­lifted from a field hos­pi­tal near Tham Luang to the air­port af­ter be­ing ex­tracted from the cave.

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