Res­cued Thai boys in good spir­its af­ter ‘once in a life­time res­cue’

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Stephen Wright and Kawee­wit Kaewjinda

MAE SAI, Thailand — As ec­static rel­a­tives watched and waved from be­hind a glass bar­rier, the 12 boys and their soc­cer coach res­cued from deep within a flooded cave in Thailand made the V-for-Vic­tory sign Wednes­day from their beds in a hos­pi­tal iso­la­tion ward where they are re­cov­er­ing from the 18-day or­deal.

An Amer­i­can in­volved in the op­er­a­tion de­scribed the per­ilous zero-vis­i­bil­ity dives that brought the boys out safely as a “once in a life­time res­cue.”

Derek An­der­son, a 32-yearold res­cue spe­cial­ist with the U.S. Air Force based in Ok­i­nawa, Ja­pan, said that at times dur­ing the risky res­cue, the boys had to be put into har­nesses and high­lined across the rocky cav­erns. At other times, they en­dured dives last­ing up to half an hour in the pitch-black waters.

“The world just needs to know that what was ac­com­plished was a once in a life­time res­cue,” An­der­son told the As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view on Wednes­day. “We were ex­tremely for­tu­nate that the out­come was the way it was. It’s im­por­tant to re­al­ize how com­plex and how many pieces of this puz­zle had to come to­gether.”

He said the boys, rang­ing in age from 11 to 16, were “in­cred­i­bly re­silient.”

“What was re­ally im­por­tant was the coach and the boys all came to­gether and dis­cussed stay­ing strong, hav­ing the will to live, hav­ing the will to sur­vive,” An­der­son said.

That gutsy de­ter­mi­na­tion was on dis­play Wednes­day in a video taken from the hos­pi­tal iso­la­tion ward. The boys, their faces cov­ered by green sur­gi­cal masks, flashed the V-for-Vic­tory sign as they sat up in bed and chat­ted with their nurses, at times re­spond­ing with the cus­tom­ary Thai sign of re­spect — hands pressed to­gether while bow­ing the head. The youngest boy, 11, ap­peared to be asleep un­der a crisp white sheet.

“Don’t need to worry about their phys­i­cal health and even more so for their men­tal health,” said Chai­wetch Thana­paisal, di­rec­tor of Chi­ang Rai Prachanukroh Hos­pi­tal.

“Ev­ery­one is strong in mind and heart,” he said at a news con­fer­ence of of­fi­cials in­volved in the res­cue.

The four boys and 25-year-old soc­cer coach who were brought out Tues­day on the fi­nal day of the three-day res­cue ef­fort have re­cov­ered more quickly than the boys res­cued Sun­day and Mon­day, Chai­wetch said.

Even so, all need to be mon­i­tored in the hos­pi­tal for a week and then rest at home for an­other 30 days, he said. Three have slight lung in­fec­tions.

Thongchai Ler­twilairata a pub­lic health in­spec­tor, said the boys lost an av­er­age of 4.4 pounds while they were trapped.

The group had en­tered the sprawl­ing Tham Luang cave in north­ern Thailand to go ex­plor­ing af­ter soc­cer prac­tice on June 23 when mon­soon rains filled the tight pas­sage­ways, block­ing their es­cape.

The com­plex mis­sion for the res­cuers from Thailand, the U.S., Bri­tain, Aus­tralia and other coun­tries to guide the boys and coach through the cave’s flooded pas­sage­ways riv­eted peo­ple world­wide. High­light­ing the dan­gers, a for­mer Thai navy SEAL died Fri­day while re­plen­ish­ing oxy­gen can­is­ters placed along the es­cape route.

Chi­ang Rai prov­ince act­ing Gov. Narongsak Os­a­tanakorn, who over­saw the res­cue op­er­a­tion, said the boys should not be blamed for their near tragedy. He lauded the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Thai and in­ter­na­tional res­cuers.

“The sit­u­a­tion went be­yond just be­ing a res­cue mis­sion and be­came a sym­bol of unity among mankind,” he said.

Of­fi­cials plan an in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum at the Tham Luang cave based on the his­toric res­cue mis­sion.

THAILAND GOVERN­MENT SPOKESMAN BUREAU VIA AP

Three of the 12 boys are seen re­cov­er­ing Wednes­day in a hos­pi­tal af­ter be­ing res­cued along with their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.

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