The eyes of the world have been focused on a deep cave in Thailand where a youth soccer team has been trapped in the dark for more than two weeks.
Four of the thirteen were rescued from Luang Nang Non cave over the weekend. On Monday a second round of rescue operations has freed another four boys.
How did they get trapped in the cave?
Twelve boys, aged 11-16, went on a freshwater cave exploration hike following a practice game and birthday party on June 23, 2018. Traditionally, children of the area will explore the caves and then write their name on the walls inside.
The caves typically flood this time of year, but an unseasonably dry period left the caves open. Twelve boys from the local hills went off on their own adventure, leaving their backpacks and bikes outside.
Unfortunately, the dry streak was broken while the boys were exploring the caves. Their coach, 25-year-old Ekapol Jantawong, volunteered to go looking for the boys as the parents grew more concerned. While searching for the boys, a sudden and continuous downpour created monsoon flooding conditions which rapidly blocked Jantawong’s escape route.
The thirteen victims were trapped in the dark for nearly 10 days before cave divers found them.
Was the Luang Nang Non cave hike an “initiation test”?
A mis-quote from one of the volunteer divers has created a rumor that the boys were sent into the cave as part of an “initiation test.”
The local cave system is frequently explored by the residents living nearby. Traditionally, children of the area will explore the caves and then write their name on the walls inside. While trying to explain this to reporters, volunteer diver Ben Reymenants told Sky News, “wading in and trying to go to the end of the tunnel, sort of like an initiation for local young boys to… write your name on the wall and make it back.”
There is currently no evidence whatsoever that the coach or any other party coerced the boys to perform a dangerous stunt as part of a hazing ritual.
The parents of the 12 trapped children have asked the media to not blame the coach. “Please don’t blame yourself,” they wrote in a letter that was delivered to the 25-year-old coach by a rescuer.
“To all the kids,” wrote the mother of 14-year-old Nattawut Takamsa, “We are not mad at you at all. Do take good care of yourself. Don’t forget to cover yourself with blankets as the weather is cold. We’re worried. You will come out soon.”
Why couldn’t the Thai soccer team escape on their own?
Once dry passages which led out from the cave were rapidly filled with flood water. The churning muddy water offered near zero visibility and long, narrow choke points throughout the caves made escape impossible without a breathing apparatus.
How did they escape?
After 10 days the boys were found by a pair of British volunteer search-and-rescue divers. Over the past week, Thai authorities have been cooperating with international cave diving experts to formulate a rescue operation.
Sgt. Major Saman Gunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL, lost consciousness after spending five hours distributing oxygen tanks and rescue supplies throughout the cave system last Friday. Fellow divers carried the unconcsious SEAL to another pocket where they attempted first aid. Unable to resuscitate the diver, the rescuers gave the SEAL oxygen and carried him out of the caves. The volunteer diver died later that day.
Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said that Saturday’s milder weather and falling water levels created the perfect conditions for a rescue operation. Four boys were escorted from the caves, one at a time, before heavy rain forced the rescue to stop.
Rescue operations resumed on Monday allowing the divers to save an additional four boys.
The video below offers a fantastic visualization of the cave system, the rescue diver’s challenging route, and ultimate rescue operation.
Take a closer look at this incredible story below.