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Saturday 22 September 2018

Four Thai boys freed from cave in daring rescue

The boys and their rescuers were seen briefly before being airlifted to hospital.
The boys and their rescuers were seen briefly before being airlifted to hospital.

Four schoolboys were freed from their two-week underground ordeal in a flooded Thai cave system yesterday.

The boys - among 12 found with their football coach last Monday - were guided to safety in a daring rescue mission through narrow, submerged passageways.

As the boys recovered in hospital last night, the former Chiang Rai provincial governor heading the operation hailed it as a huge success.

With night falling, Narongsak Osottanakorn also said the operation to recover the remaining boys and their coach would not resume until today, as the teams needed at least 10 hours to prepare.

The next phase would involve about 90 divers, 50 of them from foreign countries, he said.

Monsoon

Bursts of heavy monsoon rain soaked the area near the caves yesterday, leading to fears that conditions will become more dangerous again.

The rescue has been called a "war against water and time" and has claimed the life of one man, former Thai navy Seal Saman Gunan.

Mr Saman, who was working as a volunteer, was laying oxygen tanks in the cave system in case the rescue supply ran out. Yesterday, the rescued boys were guided to safety by 13 foreign divers and five serving navy Seals.

They were led out before being put on stretchers for the airlift to hospital.

Onlookers said rescuers had smiles of relief as they emerged, but the mood was still muted because of the nine people still trapped in the caves.

"Today we managed to rescue and send back four children to Chiang Rai Prachanukrua Hospital safely," Mr Narongsak said.

"It's a big success of all teams. We have thousands of people helping us with the operation.

"Today was the best situation - in terms of kids' health, water and our rescue readiness.

"We will have to do the next mission as successfully as the one we did today."

An Australian doctor who is part of the rescue mission checked the health of the boys on Saturday night and gave the all-clear for the operation to proceed.

The rescue teams rehearsed the plan for several days, Mr Narongsak said, and had managed to drain the water level in the cave considerably, but needed to move fast.

"If we wait and the rain comes in the next few days we will be tired again from pumping and our readiness would drop. If that's the case, then we have to reassess the situation," he said.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after football practice on June 23.

They had gone to explore the cave complex near the border with Myanmar to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys.

They were discovered by British divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen last Monday.

Of the 13-strong foreign dive team - mainly from Europe - three escorted the children while the remainder were positioned along the dangerous first kilometre stretch.

There, the boys had to navi- gate through submerged pass- ageways in some places no more than two feet wide.

Anxious

Thirteen medical teams - one each for the boys and their coach and each with a helicopter and ambulance - were stationed outside the cave.

A source at the Chiang Rai hospital said five emergency response doctors were awaiting the boys and a further 30 were on stand-by.

"The teams here are happy the boys are being rescued but also anxious about the severity of the boys' conditions. We're under a lot of pressure," she said.

The arrival of the boys at the hospital, which was cordoned off with police patrolling, was greeted by applause.

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