With V-for-Vic­tory sign, res­cued Thai boys cel­e­brate free­dom

Yuma Sun - - OPINION -

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 18day 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-year-old 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 high-lined 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 on 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.

An­other video re­leased on Face­book by the Thai Navy SEALs, who were cen­tral to the res­cue, showed one of the boys be­ing car­ried through part of the muddy cave on a stretcher cov­ered by an emer­gency ther­mal blanket.

The SEALs com­man­der, Rear Adm. Apakorn Youkongkae, said the soc­cer coach, Ekkapol Chanta­wong, de­ter­mined the or­der the boys from the Wild Boars soc­cer team should be res­cued in. “The coach was the one to choose,” he said.

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. They were found by a pair of British divers nearly 10 days later, hud­dled on a small, dry shelf just above the wa­ter, smil­ing with re­lief but vis­i­bly skinny.

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 vol­un­teer­ing to work on the res­cue 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. “Ev­ery­one worked to­gether with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion of race or reli­gion as the ul­ti­mate goal was to save the youth foot­ball team.”

Of­fi­cials plan an in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum at the Tham Luang cave based on the his­toric res­cue mis­sion that will fea­ture items such as cloth­ing that key res­cuers wore dur­ing the op­er­a­tion, Narongsak said.

Each of the boys, with no div­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, was guided out by divers though rocky, muddy and wa­ter-filled pas­sages that in places were just a crawl space.

The method was ex­tremely risky, but dwin­dling oxy­gen lev­els in the cave and fears of more mon­soon rains to come made a de­ci­sion ur­gent. Rel­a­tively mild weather and a mas­sive ef­fort to pump out wa­ter cre­ated a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity. And the con­fi­dence of the div­ing team, and ex­per­tise spe­cific to the cave, grew af­ter its first suc­cess­ful mis­sion Sun­day.

Thongchai Ler­twilairatanapong, a pub­lic health in­spec­tor, said the boys lost an av­er­age of 2 kilo­grams (4.4 pounds) while they were trapped. Be­fore their dis­cov­ery, they sur­vived by drink­ing wa­ter drip­ping into their cramped refuge.

“To not re­ceive food, we can still sur­vive for many months, but what’s nec­es­sary is wa­ter, which the cave has, and around this time there’s a lot in the cave, and they chose clean wa­ter to drink,” he said.

THAILAND GOVERN­MENT SPOKESMAN BUREAU VIA AP

IN THIS IM­AGE MADE FROM VIDEO RE­LEASED BY THE THAILAND Govern­ment Spokesman Bureau, three of the 12 boys are seen re­cov­er­ing in their hos­pi­tal beds af­ter be­ing res­cued along with their coach from a flooded cave in Mae Sai, Chi­ang Rai prov­ince, north­ern Thailand.

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