Res­cue un­der­way for boys trapped in cave

Mild weather, fall­ing wa­ter lev­els make for op­ti­mal con­di­tions

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD -

MAE SAI, Thai­land — The op­er­a­tion has be­gun to res­cue 12 boys and their soc­cer coach who will need to dive out of the flooded cave where they have been trapped for more than two weeks, with Thai of­fi­cials say­ing Sun­day morn­ing that “to­day is D-Day.”

Chi­ang Rai act­ing Gov. Narongsak Osa­tanakorn said 13 for­eign and five Thai divers were tak­ing part in the res­cue and divers will ac­com­pany each boy as they are grad­u­ally ex­tracted. The op­er­a­tion be­gan at 10 a.m. and he said it would take at least 11 hours for the first per­son to be res­cued. But it could take up to three days to re­cover them all in­di­vid­u­ally from the cave, of­fi­cials said.

Wa­ter lev­els have dropped sig­nif­i­cantly in the Tham Luang cave, so the boys will be able to walk out for part of the way be­fore they have to make a treach­er­ous dive in dark and muddy wa­ters out of the nar­row cave pas­sage­ways with oxy­gen-de­pleted air, of­fi­cials said. A for­mer Thai navy SEAL passed out mak­ing the dive Fri­day and died.

Ex­pe­ri­enced cave res­cue ex­perts con­sider an un­der­wa­ter escape a last re­sort, espe­cially with peo­ple un­trained in div­ing, as the boys are. The path out is con­sid­ered espe­cially com­pli­cated be­cause of twists and turns in nar­row flooded pas­sages.

But the gov­er­nor su­per­vis­ing the mis­sion said ear­lier that mild weather and fall­ing wa­ter lev­els over the last few days had cre­ated op­ti­mal con­di­tions for an un­der­wa­ter evac­u­a­tion that won’t last if it rains again.

“The kids are so strong, phys­i­cally and men­tally,” Narongsak said.

He said that res­cuers have as­sessed the boys’ con­di­tion and also briefed their fam­i­lies, who are sup­port­ive of the res­cue plan.

“They are ready in ev­ery way,” he said.

Am­bu­lances and he­li­copters are stand­ing by to trans­port them to a hos­pi­tal for treat­ment.

Me­dia told to clear out

“Ev­ery­one knows ex­actly what they have to do be­cause any con­fu­sion in there would be re­ally bad,” Mr. Narongsak told a packed press con­fer­ence at­tended by many hun­dreds of jour­nal­ists. He also warned that the plan to res­cue the 12 boys and there coach could change if heavy rains raise wa­ter lev­els in the cave.

He made the an­nounce­ment that the res­cue was un­der­way af­ter au­thor­i­ties or­dered the throngs of me­dia that have gath­ered at the cave from around the world to leave.

The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach be­came stranded when they went ex­plor­ing in the cave af­ter a prac­tice game June 23. Mon­soon flood­ing cut off their escape and pre­vented res­cuers from find­ing them for al­most 10 days.

Au­thor­i­ties had said that in­com­ing mon­soon rains that could send wa­ter lev­els in the cave ris­ing, cou­pled with fall­ing oxy­gen lev­els in the en­closed space, added to the ur­gency of get­ting those trapped out. Ear­lier ef­forts to pump out wa­ter from the cave have been set back ev­ery time there has been a heavy downpour.

Narongsak said Satur­day that ex­perts told him wa­ter from new rain could shrink the un­flooded space where the boys are shel­ter­ing to just 10 square me­ters, or 108 square feet.

“I con­firm that we are at war with wa­ter and time from the first day up to to­day,” he said Satur­day. “Find­ing the boys doesn’t mean we’ve fin­ished our mis­sion. It is only a small bat­tle we’ve won, but the war has not ended. The war ends when we win all three bat­tles — the bat­tles to search, res­cue and send them home.”

The boys sounded calm and re­as­sur­ing in hand­writ­ten notes to their fam­i­lies that were made pub­lic Satur­day. The notes were sent out with divers who made an 11-hour, back-and-forth jour­ney to act as mail car­ri­ers.

One of the boys, iden­ti­fied as Tun, wrote: “Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine. I’ve told Yod to get ready to take me out for fried chicken. With love.”

“Don’t be wor­ried, I miss ev­ery­one. Grandpa, Un­cle, Mom, Dad and sib­lings, I love you all. I’m happy be­ing here in­side, the navy SEALS have taken good care. Love you all,” wrote Mick.

“Night loves Dad and Mom and brother, don’t worry about me. Night loves you all,” wrote Night, in the Thai man­ner of re­fer­ring to one’s self in the third per­son.

The most touch­ing note came from one whose name was not clear: “I’m do­ing fine, but the air is a lit­tle cold, but don’t worry. Although, don’t for­get to set up my birth­day party.”

An­other, of in­dis­tinct origin, asked their teacher not to give them a lot of home­work.

Apol­ogy to fam­i­lies

In a letter of his own, the coach, Ekapol Chan­tha­wong, apol­o­gized to the boys’ par­ents for the or­deal.

“To the par­ents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are tak­ing good care. I prom­ise I will care for the kids as best as pos­si­ble. I want to say thanks for all the sup­port and I want to apol­o­gize to the par­ents,” he wrote.

An up­date Satur­day from the Thai navy said three navy SEALs were with the boys and their coach, one a doc­tor. The 13 were hav­ing health eval­u­a­tions and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, and were be­ing taught div­ing skills. Food, elec­trolyte drinks, drink­ing wa­ter, medicine and oxy­gen can­is­ters have been de­liv­ered to them. A ma­jor con­cern of the res­cuers is that oxy­gen lev­els in their safe space could fall danger­ously low.

Royal Thai Navy via As­so­ci­ated Press

Res­cue teams ar­range a wa­ter-pump­ing sys­tem at the en­trance to a flooded cave com­plex where 12 boys and their soc­cer coach have been trapped since June 23 in north­ern Thai­land.

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