Smiles and victory signs from hospital as rescued Thai football team recover from cave ordeal

Smiles and victory signs from hospital as rescued Thai football team recover from cave ordealLooking relaxed as they sat up on their hospital beds, wearing face masks but with smiling eyes, three young boys turned to the camera and one held up two fingers in a victory sign. Thailand’s young footballers had come home. Thailand on Wednesday basked in the glow of a spectacular international rescue mission that had gripped the world by successfully extracting 12 young boys and their football coach, 25, from the terrifying flooded depths of the Tham Luang cave in northern Chiang Rai province. The photo, released by the authorities on Wednesday evening, confirmed earlier health official reports that the boys were relatively unscathed after being confined for over two weeks in an airless, damp cavern 2.5 miles from the cave’s mouth. To escape, the boys had to dive through deep and muddy monsoon rainwater filling a jagged passageway, that at one of its most challenging points was a petrifying 38cm high. The children, kept calm by anti-anxiety drugs, were guided by a specialist team of Thai Navy Seals and international cave divers, spearheaded by Brits including John Volanthen, 47, and Rick Stanton, 56, who had initially discovered the boys on July 2, more than a week after they had gone missing. Three of the 12 boys are seen recovering in their hospital beds Junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha said the boys had been sedated with a "minor tranqueliser" before they were passed on stretchers along the twisting, narrow passageways for the final part of the journey.  He denied they had been knocked out with the drugs, despite some of the boys reportedly appearing to be asleep. Seven British experts, considered to be among the most experienced cave divers in the world, played a pivotal role in the daring extraction operation. They did not wish to speak to the media on Wednesday. Some were spotted leaving Chiang Rai airport for home, while others enjoyed a well-earned rest and Thailand’s grateful hospitality at one of the city’s finest hotels before reportedly heading out to an official party to celebrate their success. The men, who have shunned attention while focussing on their demanding mission, are being feted as heroes in Thailand and at home. Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative Party treasurer, suggested that Mr Volanthen and Mr Stanton could be awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian honour in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. Others, including businesswoman Tracey Follows, called for the pair to be given knighthoods for their “heroic efforts.” The last four Thai Navy Seals giving a thumbs up after exiting safely from the Tham Luang cave on Tuesday Credit:  AFP A source close to the mission said that the Britons had been elevated to a leadership position in the international mission after their astonishing discovery of the children, captured in a video where the emaciated boys calmly ask whether they can now leave the cave. Key information from the Britons about the boys’ location and condition has been fed through a chain of command that flowed through US forces on site to the interior minister and ultimately to General Prayuth Chan-ocha. It was reportedly the prime minister himself who gave the green light for the audacious three-day rescue mission that began on Sunday. The words “it’s a go” were then relayed to a daily command centre briefing on the eve of the daunting mission. The success of the dramatic operation has already spurred moves towards a Thai cave rescue blockbuster. Even before the boys have been reunited with their parents Pure Flix Entertainment is already seeking movie rights, reported Variety. Thai cave rescue: How it’s being done But the joyful end to the boys’ ordeal, sparking celebration around the world on Tuesday evening, could have ended in disaster. On Wednesday morning it emerged that water pumps draining the area failed while rescuers were still inside, a few hours after the children’s evacuation. Australian divers told their local press that rescue workers had been in a jubilant mood when they suddenly noticed the waters inside the cave were rising rapidly. High-tech pumps that had been working furiously to drain the floodwaters had malfunctioned, they said, creating at a surge of water that made rescuers run for their lives. “The pumps failed and the water in the sumps had started rising,” said a diver. Fortunately. everyone got out on time. Video shows boys relaxing in hospital The Thai hospital where the 12 boys and their football coach are recuperating after being rescued from a flooded cave released video on Wednesday showing them in their hospital beds, smiling and chatting with nurses. The video shows the boys in an isolation ward in beds with crisp white sheets and wearing green surgical masks. Some of their parents are seen crying and waving to them from behind glass. Chaiwetch Thanapaisal, director of Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, told a news conference involving officials involved in the rescue that "everyone is strong in mind and heart". The video surfaced as it emerged that the boys were passed "sleeping" on stretchers through the treacherous cave pathways. Members of the Wild Boar team in hospital following their rescue A former Thai Navy Seal who was the last diver to leave the Tham Luang complex told AFP some of the first details of the operation, which has been shrouded in secrecy since it began on Sunday and ended successfully three days later. "Some of them were asleep, some of them were wiggling their fingers... (as if) groggy, but they were breathing," Commander Chaiyananta Peeranarong said, adding that doctors stationed along the dark corridors of the Tham Luang cave were constantly checking their condition and pulse. "My job was to transfer them along," he said, adding the "boys were wrapped up in stretchers already when they were being transferred". Thailand's junta chief told reporters on Tuesday that the group had been given a "minor tranquiliser" to help calm their nerves, but he denied they were knocked out for the rescue. 'They are in good condition and not stressed' The members of the "Wild Boars" team, aged 11-16, had no experience in scuba diving, and the death of an ex-Navy Seal who had helped install oxygen tanks in preparation for the rescue underscored the dangers of the mission. Thailand said it had called on 13 "world class" divers to help with the unprecedented job, one of whom was Australian Richard "Harry" Harris, a diver and professional anaesthetist. The 12 boys and their coach lost an average of 2 kg (4.4 lb) during their 17-day ordeal but were generally in good condition and showed no signs of stress, a senior health official said on Wednesday. They were taken by helicopter to a hospital about 70 km (45 miles) away to join their team mates in quarantine for the time being. "From our assessment, they are in good condition and not stressed. The children were well taken care of in the cave. Most of the boys lost an average of 2 kg," Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, an inspector for Thailand's health department, told reporters. First visits for families Parents of the first four boys freed on Sunday have been able to visit them but had to wear protective suits and stand 2 metres (7 feet) away as a precaution. Thongchai said one from the last group rescued on Tuesday had a lung infection and they were all given vaccinations for rabies and tetanus. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha asked that the boys be given time and space to recover. "The important thing is ... personal space," Prayuth told reporters. "The best way is not to bother them and let them study." The group ventured into the vast cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai after football practice on June 23 and were trapped when a rainy season downpour flooded tunnels. They were lost for nine days before they were discovered by British divers on July 2. Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told a news conference the boys were just being children when they got lost and no one was to blame. "We don't see the children as at fault or as heroes. They are children being children, it was an accident," he said. He said falling oxygen levels inside the cave complex had added a sense of urgency to the rescue. The commander of the Navy Seal unit that oversaw the rescue, Rear Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew, hailed the international effort. Thai cave rescue | Read more "We are not heroes. This mission was successful because of cooperation from everyone," he said. "For Seals, this is what we were trained for. The navy has a motto: 'We don't abandon the people'.” Official help came from Britain, the United States, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, China and Australia, a government document showed. There were volunteers from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Ukraine and Finland.




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