Rescue missions to extract a Thai soccer team and its coach from a flooded cave wrapped up Monday with four more brought to safety during the second day of painstaking missions through the murky waters.
Now only five members of the team remain in the cavern complex, where they became trapped more than two weeks ago. Four boys were taken out of the cave by divers on Sunday.
The fifth boy was brought out late Monday, officials said. Three more members of the team emerged before the day’s nine-hour rescue efforts were halted after nightfall, according to a post on the Facebook page of Thailand’s navy SEAL unit.
“2 days 8 wild boars,” read the Facebook post, referring to the name of the soccer team.
Those rescued Monday was brought by helicopter to a hospital in Chiang Rai – to join the four others taken out the previous day. There was no immediate word on their conditions.
Mission chief Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former governor of Chiang Rai province, said that rescuers were hoping to move as fast as possible before rains returned. A final push for the remaining five trapped in the cave was expected Tuesday after restocking the exit route with air tanks, ropes and other supplies, he said.
The 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach went missing after they went into the caves on June 23 and were trapped by rising waters. They were found more than a week later, stuck on a small muddy patch deep in the cave’s network of chambers.
To get the boys through the miles of submerged passages, they were each tethered to a diver, with another positioned behind them, as they made their way through the dark waters that have filled the cave’s passageways. Each boy was fitted with a face mask connected to a compressed air tank. At especially narrow parts of the cave, the tanks had to be released from their backs and rolled through.
Officials said the boys are healthy but have not provided details on their condition. Holding them isolated will allow doctors to ensure they do not have any infections, they said. After their first night in the hospital, the boys rescued Sunday requested spicy basil pork, the officials added.
Authorities have also declined to provide the names and identities of the boys who were rescued. Friends of 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiem, however, said he was among those who were extracted Sunday. He was reported to be among the weakest in the group.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha spoke Monday with the boys’ family members, many of whom have been camped out at the cave rescue site since the team went missing. Workers were seen lining the roads around Chiang Rai airport, the closest regional airport to the site of the cave, with flags representing the Thai king.
Locals in Mae Sai and across the country have been glued to their television screens, watching every twist and turn of the dramatic search.
Nuttachoong Pimtong, a 14-year-old friend of Adul Sam-on, said he was watching a Thai television network on Monday with his family when he saw the first footage of the boys being taken away from the cave site in ambulances.
“We all clapped and cheered,” he said. Another classmate, Monthip Yodkham, shared with The Washington Post messages on his phone exchanged in a Line group chat among his friends, a group that includes members of the soccer team.
“I want to give him a hug!” one message said. “I want to see him now. Can we go to the hospital right away?” another added. One message was just a string of thumbs up and smiley face emojis.
At the Mae Sai Prasitsart school, where six of the 12 boys studied, the principal and teachers said they promised to give the boys a lighter homework load once they are back in class. They will be exempt from upcoming tests.
Onlookers watch as a helicopter transporting the fifth boy rescued from the cave departs.
Principal Kanetpong Suwan said teachers and students have been briefed to treat the boys normally and positively, not to ask them about details that would remind them of their ordeal, and to welcome all of them back with open arms.
“It isn’t anyone’s fault,” he said. “We should treat them like disaster victims, and not like they’ve done anything wrong.”
Still, their friends and classmates are brimming with questions, including a very pressing one – why did you go in there?
“I really want to know, why did he go inside?” said Monthip. “I thought it was so dangerous. I told them that.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Shibani Mahtani