Rescue operation in thailand: boys freed from flooded cave

After 15 days, the rescue operation for the 12 boys and their soccer coach starts on Sunday. The first were freed from the Tham Luang cave.

An ambulance reportedly freed first boys from the cave Photo: reuters

Faster than expected, the first six boys have been rescued from Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on Sunday evening (local time). Another six boys and their soccer coach were still inside at press time. In the morning, emergency officials had decided to begin the rescue operation of the 13 immediately. "D-day has come," said operations chief Narongsak Osottanakorn.

For 16 days, the boys, aged between , had been stuck in the Tham Luang cave on the Myanmar border with their 25-year-old coach. The rescue operation has been underway since 4 a.m. (CET) Sunday, and could last two or three days, according to Osottanakorn. 18 divers, equipped with helmets, headlamps and oxygen equipment, set out on the 4-kilometer-long and dangerously winding path to the youngsters, two at a time were then to pilot them out one by one – through passages that at their narrowest point are as wide as three Mars bars laid end to end.

The young soccer team had entered the cave after practice on June 23 out of a sense of adventure, only to be surprised by a spring tide. They managed to save themselves on an underground ledge. There they were found on July 2 and provided with food and medicine. Originally, the rescue was to be postponed until after the rainy season. But oxygen levels in the cave dropped and new rains threatened to cause the water to rise. "The boys are physically and mentally ready to come out," said Osottanakorn, who is also governor of Chiang Rai province.

The rescue operation was considered extremely risky. On Friday, experienced Navy diver Saman Kunan had perished in the narrow tunnel. The commander of a naval unit then declared, "We will not be discouraged. We will never retreat. He shall not have died in vain."

One of the longest caves in the country

The rescue operation is receiving widespread worldwide sympathy. Around a thousand journalists persevered outside the cave, some from the beginning, and some media set up live blogs. On Twitter, under the hashtags #ThaiCaveRescue and #ThamLuangRescue, hundreds of users are sharing their prayers and wishes for the 13 trapped people and their families: "Even if it’s the World Cup, tonight the whole world is cheering for Thailand," wrote one.

4 years ago, the rescue operation of an injured speleologist in Bavaria had caused a great sensation. After the successful rescue, the entrance of the giant thing shaft cave was sealed, so that future visitors can only enter with special permission. There are other plans for Tham Luang Cave, which is one of the longest and most winding in the country. Provincial Governor Osottanakorn as well as the head of the tourism authority announced that the cave has become interesting and could become a tourist attraction.