Thailand cave rescue: Water pumps failed just after last boy escaped
The daring mission to save 12 Thai boys and their football coach from the Tham Luang cave could have ended in disaster after water pumps draining the area failed while rescuers were still inside, a few hours after the children’s team had been evacuated. According to The Australian newspaper, citing Australian divers involved in the operation, exhausted rescue workers were still more than a mile inside the underground network, between a key staging area – Chamber 3 – and the mouth of the cave when water levels started to rise rapidly after equipment malfunctioned. The divers, who had been working in a daisy chain to bring survivors out, were already in a celebratory mood and had been cheering inside the cave. Thailand cave rescue, in pictures They had overcome extraordinarily dangerous conditions to extract the boys, aged 11-16, and their coach Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, who had dived to safety through twisting, jagged submerged corridors in swirling murky waters. “There was actually a chain of yelling and screaming. Where I was, right down the bottom you could hear all the cheers,” one diver told the paper. But the mood of jubilation was short-lived. During the cleaning operation, the Australian divers suddenly saw hundreds of headlights – from safety helmets – charging towards them. The high-tech pumps that had been working furiously around the clock to drain the floodwaters had failed and the water was now starting to surge. Thai cave rescue: How it’s being done “Everyone is around cleaning up. Where we were all these headlights started coming over the hill. There were 100 guys running down the hill. “The pumps failed and the water in the sumps had started rising,” said a diver. Fortunately everyone got out on time. Rescue teams had already been on edge after the tragic death of Saman Kunan, 38, a former Navy Seal diver who had suffocated underwater last Friday while delivering air tanks along the treacherous escape route. Narongsak Osottanakorn, governor of Chiang Rai province, where the cave are located, on Tuesday night called Mr Kunan the "real hero of Tham Luang". On Wednesday it was announced that a monument will be built in his honour outside the cave. A German paramedic who had worked with an elite team of British divers who had spearheaded the mission and initially discovered the boys last Monday night, gave the Telegraph a glimpse of the trauma the rescuers had had to endure. “The hardest bit was when our team member died,” he said. “The water levels were up and down. We had to dive, we had to climb,” added the paramedic who did not wish to be named. “It was unbelievable, when the last person came out I cried. We were ten days here and only had one day break,” he said. In a briefing on Wednesday Commander Glen McEwan of Australian Federal Police offered further insights into the incredible endurance of the rescue teams. Seven Australian divers who had offered logistical support to the lead team had carried 20 tonnes of heavy equipment, including industrial-sized pumps, medical supplies and food through submerged passageways. “The complexity, scale and risk of the operation was unprecedented,” he said, praising the Thai-led international effort. “It’s amazing what the human being can do. There are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. And when you have common purpose, especially when there is a human element then everyone steps up,” he said. Major Alex Rubin, from the Australian Defence Force, paid tribute in particular to the specialist skills of Dr Richard Harris who had played a “quintessential” role in preserving the health of the boys stuck inside a damp dark cavern for 18 days. Tragically, Dr Harris learned of the death of his own father shortly after he helped save the lives of the 13-strong team on Tuesday night. “He is an extremely humble man and with the amount of weight and pressure put on him I have the utmost respect for him,” said Major Rubin. “He is one of the most professional doctors I’ve ever met and his unique skill sets as a specialist doctor and also his extensive experience as a cave diver was quintessential to the success of this operation, which was led very well by the Thai authorities." Despite their ordeal, the young boys had lost weight but appear to be in relatively good health, health officials confirmed on Wednesday. They "took care of themselves well in the cave,” Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, said at a news conference at the hospital in Chiang Rai city where the group is recovering. The four boys rescued Sunday can eat normal food and walk around, and the four pulled out Monday were eating soft food. Mr Thongchai said one member of the final group of four boys and the coach who arrived at the hospital Tuesday evening had a slight lung infection. Thai cave rescue effort | Read more The boys were in isolation in the hospital to prevent infections by outsiders. But family members have seen at least some of the boys from behind a glass barrier, and after a period of time with no problems, the family members would be allowed closer while dressed in sterilized clothing, he confirmed.
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