By Nontarat Phaicharoen
Twelve teenage boys and their soccer coach were found alive Monday, nine days after they were reported missing and trapped by rising floodwaters in a sprawling cave in northern Thailand, a provincial governor said.
The boys – ranging between 11 and 16 years in age – and their 25-year-old coach disappeared on June 23 while exploring the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province.
A feverish rescue effort, involving hundreds of Thai personnel and volunteers, as well as dive teams from eight nations, gripped the people of Thailand as the rescuers worked around the clock in muddy waters to find the “Wild Boar” team members.
“Confirm that we found [them],” Narongsak Osottanakorn, governor of Chiang Rai province, told reporters, who broke into cheers and applause. “We evaluate how their health is and we will take care of them to see how they can potentially move first. Then we will plan the next move after that.”
“We are planning a team of doctors and nurses … who can dive into the cave,” he added.
Narongsak cautioned reporters that the rescue was “not done yet.”
“We will drain all water out from the cave then we will take all 13 people out of the cave,” he said, explaining it would take medical teams and rescuers up to four hours to determine how to extract the boys. “We will work all night.”
Two British divers (see video below) found the boys and their coach at 9:38 p.m. Monday (local time), according to a video posted online by Thai Navy SEALs.
“You are very strong,” one of the rescuers could be heard as saying in the video that appears to have been taken the very first moment when the trapped boys were discovered. The boys were huddled in a deep chamber, which was partly flooded.
“How many are you?” the rescuer said. “Thirteen,” one of the boys replied.
“Thirteen? Brilliant! We are coming, many people are coming. Many people, we are the first,” the rescuer said.
Some of the boys could be heard asking what day it was.
“Monday, you have been here 10 days,” the rescuer said. “You are very strong, very strong.”
Over the weekend, foreign rescuers and scores of divers carried oxygen tanks and set up a makeshift base camp about 3 km (1.86 miles) inside the cave before flooding caused by heavy rain forced them to retreat.
Military divers have been essential to the rescue effort in the cave, which tends to flood during the rainy season.
A rescue team from China was the latest to join survival experts from Britain, the United States, Laos, and Myanmar already at the scene on Saturday. More than 1,000 Thai soldiers, police, government personnel and volunteers were involved in the search, officials said.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha traveled to the cave on Friday to support the families of the boys. For more than a week, family members have been camped at the scene alongside monks chanting prayers for the boys to emerge alive.
“The power of faith can make all things successful – have faith in the rescuers. Have faith in the strength of your children that they will come back to us,” Prayuth said during his visit.