International

Cave Divers on rescue mission spent 63 hours in Thai cave

Emerge public heroes as weeks long ordeal comes to an end

MAE SAI, THAILAND

Now, you know, cave divers are a specialist species. They were instrumental in extracting young people trapped in Thai caves under flooded conditions. When no other creature, howsoever expeditious by nature, takes heart to venture out into a deluge, cave divers delve deeper than others.

The Thailand cave incident, that made the world pray with crossed fingers for the lives of 13 youngsters for more than two weeks, was finally rounded up by expert cave divers.

It’s now brought to the fore that these divers had to undergo no less pains than the trapped boys and their football coach himself. In fact, they spent almost 63 hours over nine days, submerged in water. British diver Rick Stanton was one of the first to discover the boys and their coach in the cave. Phuket based diver Ben Reymenants was also a part of the rescue ops. Each arduous round-trip they took for extraction took between nine and 11 hours.

They had to guide their charges through passages as narrow as a couple of feet, weighed down by bulky equipment. A diver in front led the way, with a boy tethered to him and another diver following behind.

Tension that had gripped this small town near the site finally broke Tuesday evening as the last of the ambulances turned on their lights and sirens and raced downhill from the cave. Thai police lining the road from the entrance laughed and flashed thumbs ups at the vast numbers of news organizations from all over the world waiting for this very scene.

Onlookers cheered, “Hooyah moo pa!” – a reference to the name of the boys’ soccer team, Moo Pa, or Wild Boars.

“We’ve rescued everyone,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former governor of Chiang Rai province and the lead rescue official, as volunteers and journalists erupted in jubilant cheers and claps. “We achieved a mission impossible.”

The disappearance of the boys and their novice monk turned soccer coach from this small town on the Thailand-Myanmar border – remarkably found alive nine days after they went missing June 23 – launched an extraordinary saga of international cooperation and ingenuity, as experts from many fields planned how to maneuver all 13 out alive.

When no clear opening could be found atop the mountain range housing the cave, having the boys swim out with the 18-strong team of British, Australian, Chinese, Thai, American and Danish divers was considered the least risky of a range of daunting options.

The dramatic three-day mission kicked off Sunday after days spent preparing the cave – and the boys. One diver said in a Facebook post that he had spent 63 hours in the cave system over the past nine days. The mission was also a race against the weather.

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