All boys and coach now out of Thai cave in incredible rescue mission
On June 23rd, 12 boys aged between 11 and 17 years old went with their 25-year-old coach after soccer practice to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non caves in Northern Thailand. Tragedy struck, however, as heavy rains flooded the caves and left the group trapped in the underwater system. For nine days, nobody knew what had become of them - and, after a week had passed, most people assumed that they must have succumbed to the floodwaters.
But, on July 2nd, a miracle happened. Two British divers who were experienced in cave rescues managed to locate the boys and discovered that all of them had managed to survive the ordeal.
However, finding them was only half the battle; and making sure that everyone made it out safely would eventually take another eight days, a team of 90 expert divers, and - tragically - one life.
When the boys were first located, rescuers did not think it would be possible to get them out safely. In fact, rather than bring them out of the caves, they originally planned to bring supplies in and set up habitable camps for the group until the rainy season was over.
With the teenagers prepared for the worst, many of the boys wrote letters to their loved ones. "The kids say don't worry," wrote their coach, Ekapol Chantawong, on behalf of the team. "We are all strong. When they come out they want to eat many things. When they come out they want to go back home immediately. Teacher, don't give us lots of homework!"
That plan was eventually ditched on Sunday, July 8th, after more heavy rains were forecast. The excess water may have flooded the area that the football team was trapped in, so the rescuers really had no choice other than to get them out.
Over the following two days, dozens of divers worked their way through several kilometres of the cave system - at points passing through gaps just 40cm wide and spending up to 15 minutes at a time underwater - in order to reach the boys and bring them back the same way. Due to the terrifying nature of the journey, the youths were given anti-anxiety medication to help them cope with the trauma of getting out.
The dangers of the mission were already painfully apparent by this point, too, as one man had already died during the rescue effort on July 6th. Saman Kunan, a former Thai naval officer, passed away while returning from a mission to deliver oxygen to the trapped teens. His valiant efforts were recognised by all the others involved, and his funeral will be paid for by the Thai king in recognition of his heroism.
Many others offered to help after this point, with Elon Musk travelling to the caves in order to offer his assistance in the form of a mini-submarine that he had designed for rescue purposes. However, upon arriving there, the innovator was informed that his device would not be practical for the mission at hand.
But, despite the obvious danger, the lack of useful technology, and the sheer worry at the forefront of everybody's minds, no further fatalities occurred as a result of the rescue and - as of today - all 12 boys and their coach are back on dry land and recovering in hospital.
"They're mentally stable which is actually pretty good," said Ben Reymenants, a Belgian diver helping with the rescue operation. "Luckily the coach had the sanity of mind to keep them all together, huddled together to conserve their energy. That basically saved them."
We wish the boys and their coach a speedy recovery, and our thoughts go out to the family of the deceased diver, Saman Kunan.