Bangkok: It was a rigorous test of human endurance. Sixteen days after being trapped 800 metres below ground, which is the equivalent of two Empire State Buildings on top of one another, nearly half of the football team holed up inside a flooded Thai cave has been brought out alive.
Four boys have been rescued thus far and divers will continue on Monday with their efforts to extricate the remaining five players and their soccer coach. In a meticulously executed mission, each boy was pulled by two divers who accompanied them on the perilous 4km (2.5miles) journey through murky waters and narrow tunnels. It’s understood they were able to walk most of the way after teams drained the water level by 30cm (12ins) on Saturday night.
The starved and exhausted kids were stretchered from an ambulance to a military helicopter before being flown to a hospital 35 miles away. They were all treated at the cave’s entrance before an ambulance drove them to the helicopters which were on the stand by. The condition of one of the first two boys to emerge from the cave is ‘causing concern’.
The extraction team began the dangerous operation at 10 am local time. All of the youngsters and their 25-year-old coach are expected to be out of the cave on Monday — if everything goes according to plan. Local families and residents in the towns around the cave were cheering through the night as helicopters and ambulances passed by, and well-wishers had gathered in the town of Mae Sai, where some of the boys are from.
The boys had been preparing for days to come out through long, flooded passageways that are challenging even for the most skilled cave divers, who must navigate openings so narrow that only one person can go through at a time. Each boy will have two divers trying to bring him out. The boys, aged from 11 and 16, have no diving experience and some cannot even swim. They have received training in recent days in preparation for the extraction effort, but they have to swim using scuba gear through fast-flowing water in darkness, a challenge for even elite divers.
The difficulty of the journey was underscored when a former Thai Navy Seal diver died on Friday after running out of oxygen in the cave.