Rescue diver: Every step of extraction is risky

CNN's Arwa Damon speaks to the divers behind the rescue mission to save 12 teenage boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Northern Thailand.

Posted: Jul 10, 2018 7:59 PM
Updated: Jul 10, 2018 8:20 PM

The last remaining member of the Wild Boars soccer team and their assistant coach have been pulled out of a flooded cave in Thailand, bringing an end to a near three-week ordeal that prompted an international rescue effort and captivated audiences around the world.

The 12th boy and his coach were the last of the team to be rescued Tuesday, after a complicated three-day operation to extricate the team, who became trapped on June 23 when rising flood water cut them off deep inside the cave.

In the last 18 days, what began as a local search for the missing 13 turned into a complex rescue operation, involving hundreds of experts who flew in from around the world to help.

The parents of the boys have maintained a constant vigil outside the cave since they went missing, praying for their safe return.

FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES

All of the boys and their coach have now been transported to a nearby hospital where eight of their teammates are recuperating after being rescued Sunday and Monday.

The last of the group to emerge from the cave on Tuesday were four Navy SEALs, including a doctor who stayed with the team for a week after their discovery.

"We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave," the Thai Navy SEALS said in a Facebook post confirming the entire soccer team had been rescued.

Nineteen divers entered the cave at 10 a.m. local time Tuesday (11 p.m. Monday ET), many on their third mission in three days, with the aim of bringing everyone inside the cave out.

Tuesday's rescue took nine hours in total, from the time the divers entered the cave to bringing out the boys and their coach.

'I can sleep well now'

Nopparat Kanthawong, the team's head coach, told CNN the wait for the boys and their assistant coach to be rescued has been agonizingly slow.

"I'm happy a lot more than other days because we were waiting for this day for a long time," he said in an interview late Tuesday at his house in northern Thailand's Mae Sai District.

He added: "I can sleep well now and have good dreams at least for this one night."

Kanthawong said he didn't know the players and coach were going into the cave.

"At this time, now that the coach is out, just wait until he gives any statements and let's just wait altogether and find out (why they went into the cave) at the same time," he said.

Kanthawong said he is eager to comfort his players now that they are safe.

"I'm going to give them a hug," he said.

Rescued boys recovering in hospital

Earlier Tuesday, more details emerged about the ages and condition of the children already freed from the cave.

All eight boys rescued on Sunday and Monday are being treated in an isolation ward in a Chiang Rai hospital. Medical officials told reporters Tuesday that they're healthy, fever-free, mentally fit and "seem to be in high spirits."

Some of the boys have even asked for bread with chocolate spread -- which they were given, said Jedsada Chokedamrongsook, the permanent secretary of the Thai Health Ministry. But they'll mostly be eating a food similar to milk and rich in proteins and nutrients.

Chokedamrongsook said the first group of boys taken out on Sunday were aged 14 to 16. Their body temperatures were very low when they emerged, and two are suspected of having lung inflammation.

Families of the first four have been able to see their children through a glass window, Chokedamrongsook said. They were also able to talk on the phone. They'll be allowed to enter the room if tests show the boys are free of infection.

The second group freed on Monday were aged 12 to 14. One had a very slow heartbeat but had responded well to treatment, Chokedamrongsook said. The hospital has sent test samples from the boys to a lab in Bangkok.

Authorities will likely look for signs of Histoplasmosis, also known as "cave disease," an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings.

They are all likely to stay in hospital for up to a week, due to their weakened immune systems. Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha visited the hospital Monday, and spoke to relatives and hospital workers.

Shortly after the news of the boys' safe return broke, US President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations to the Navy SEAL team.

"On behalf of the United States, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the successful rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the treacherous cave in Thailand. Such a beautiful moment -- all freed, great job!"

Treacherous conditions

Divers involved in the rescue described treacherous conditions, with fast-moving shallow water passing through very narrow passages.

"This is the hardest mission we've ever done. The lower the water is getting, the stronger the current. It's stronger now. Every step of the extraction is risky," said Narongsuk Keasub, a diver for the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

He's one of a group of divers whose job is to transport air tanks into the tunnels for the SEAL teams. Before the final rescue, he told CNN that divers inside the cave faced a number of challenges.

"We can only see our hands (at a) short distance. Secondly, the stones are razor sharp which is dangerous for our diving, (and) thirdly the passage is very narrow," he said.

Keasub said that the thought of their own children kept them going. "I'm quite emotional as a father -- everybody has this feeling because we feel like it's our children who are inside the cave."

A dangerous journey

For several days, rain threatened to hamper what was already a complicated rescue mission. When it became clear the boys were likely going to have to dive out, experts were sent in to teach them how to use scuba gear.

Officials sourced full-faced oxygen masks small enough to fit the boys, to remove the chances of them falling off during the long arduous journey through the craggy tunnels.

Two days before the first four boys were rescued, officials warned that oxygen levels with in the cave had fallen to 15%.

Forecasts of more rain also threatened to raise water levels, further educing the amount of available air and jeopardizing efforts to get the boys out. However, a few days of relatively clear skies allowed rescuers to pump enough water out of the cave to allow the boys to walk through some sections.

During the hours-long trip out of the cave, each boy was accompanied underwater by two divers helping them navigate the dark, murky water. The most dangerous part is the first kilometer, during which the divers and boys are required to squeeze through a narrow, flooded channel.

Rescuers needed to hold the boys' oxygen tanks in front of them and swim pencil-like through submerged holes. Having completed this section, the boys are then handed over to separate, specialist rescue teams, who help assist them through the remainder of the cave, much of which they can wade through.

So treacherous were the conditions that one Thai Navy SEAL died during operations last week, a blow to rescuers who faced a race against time to free the soccer team.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35712

Reported Deaths: 2207
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion10037594
Lake3806202
Allen174371
Cass15927
Elkhart143529
St. Joseph132035
Hamilton118094
Hendricks118074
Johnson1120110
Madison59761
Porter55329
Clark52841
Bartholomew52238
Howard43734
LaPorte43624
Tippecanoe4214
Shelby39822
Jackson3942
Delaware38740
Hancock34928
Floyd32140
Boone31835
Vanderburgh2902
Morgan28324
Noble25121
Montgomery24417
Clinton2401
White2389
Decatur23031
Grant22123
Dubois2053
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1758
Greene17125
Dearborn17021
Monroe17012
Warrick16728
Kosciusko1661
Lawrence16524
Marshall1472
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Orange13122
Jennings1314
Scott1223
Franklin1158
Ripley1086
LaGrange1022
Daviess9516
Carroll933
Steuben872
Wayne865
Wabash802
Fayette797
Newton7810
Jasper701
Jay530
Clay522
Washington511
Rush503
Randolph503
Fulton501
Pulaski490
Jefferson471
Whitley443
DeKalb431
Starke393
Sullivan371
Owen341
Perry340
Huntington342
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox310
Blackford272
Tipton261
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson182
Parke180
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36792

Reported Deaths: 2300
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin6112290
Cuyahoga4669247
Hamilton2739164
Marion267931
Lucas2296256
Pickaway209537
Summit1487181
Mahoning1463188
Butler93333
Columbiana88952
Stark75299
Lorain70960
Montgomery69516
Trumbull58451
Belmont43914
Warren39021
Medina36623
Miami36230
Tuscarawas3604
Ashtabula34537
Delaware34414
Portage33257
Lake31812
Fairfield3108
Clark3067
Wood30348
Geauga29533
Wayne28851
Licking26510
Mercer2207
Clermont2165
Allen21433
Richland2093
Darke18423
Erie18216
Madison1627
Washington11819
Crawford1174
Morrow1071
Ottawa10217
Greene1025
Putnam9514
Sandusky8512
Monroe7914
Auglaize763
Ross732
Hocking705
Jefferson672
Hardin640
Huron601
Williams561
Union551
Muskingum521
Hancock511
Shelby463
Holmes463
Clinton451
Fulton450
Wyandot442
Coshocton400
Logan400
Fayette400
Preble391
Guernsey362
Defiance342
Carroll313
Brown301
Lawrence300
Champaign281
Highland261
Knox251
Seneca242
Vinton212
Ashland210
Perry191
Athens181
Henry170
Scioto170
Paulding140
Jackson140
Adams101
Harrison100
Pike90
Gallia81
Van Wert70
Noble60
Meigs60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 75°
Angola
Scattered Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 79°
Huntington
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 75°
Decatur
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 79°
Van Wert
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 79°
Few Storms Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events