Well, it will be quite a while before the parents of the twelve boys ever let them out of their sights.
The boys, aged between 11 to 16 joined their football coach and entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai in Thailand some nine days ago. When they didn’t return the worst was feared.
Things could have gone really bad for the boys and their coach. Rescue teams, from Thailand and other countries, came together in a rescue effort to get them out, not knowing if they were still alive.
The plans were plagued by heavy rains, flooding and days of searching without result.
The haunting pictures of the boys’ bicycles and their football boots left near the entrance of the cave touched and worried the world.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site and offered his support and tried to console the worried parents who had set up tents near the cave eagerly waiting for results.
The boys went missing on Saturday June 23.
Presently we don’t know why they entered the cave or why they ignored the warning signs posted.
So folks, heed the warnings. As we said, things could have turned out a lot worse.
Here’s a breakdown of what happened in the last nine days.
Saturday, June 23: The boys disappear
The weather is clear at around 1 pm when members of the Wild Boars soccer team chain their bikes to a rail and hike into Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the mountains of northern Thailand.
They wander deeper and deeper into the cave, past signs warning hikers to stay out during the rainy season that was just about to begin.
Then the rain starts pounding. Hard.
A national park ranger later notices the bikes chained up after the park closed. The search-and-rescue efforts start that night.
Sunday, June 24: Bags and sandals found
Rescuers find bags and sandals inside the cave; rising waters force the suspension of the search in the afternoon, according to the Bangkok Post.
Monday, June 25: Searchers find handprints
Rising waters block the way, leaving the group stuck inside the cave network, an official with Thailand’s national parks tells CNN. Rescuers pause the search in the evening because of flooding.
“Handprints were found around cave’s wall. But we still cannot locate the kids,” Thai Royal Navy SEALs posted on Facebook.
Rescuers use pumps to pump out the water.
Tuesday, June 26: ‘The water is rising all the time’
After a rain delay, the search resumes. Electric cables and ventilation hoses are laid in the cave, the Bangkok Post reports.
Vernon Unsworth, a British cave explorer now living in Thailand, tells CNN he is helping with the search.
“So far as I know, the (Thai Navy) SEAL divers … have gone into the main part of the cave, but the conditions are very difficult,” Unsworth said. “The water is rising all the time.”
Unsworth has explored cave several times and says water is the greatest danger.
“If the children have gone in too far, then the floodwater from the far end will be coming through,” he says. “The problem is 3 kilometers in, where there is a big pool of water (that) is getting higher and higher.”
Unsworth said due the lack of airflow into the cave, the conditions will deteriorate. “The next 6 to 10 hours will be crucial,” he said.
Wednesday, June 27: ‘The clock is ticking’
Time is running out, Thai Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda warns. “We will try to find other ways apart from underwater rescue because the clock is ticking,” he said. But he’s confident the boys and their coach are still alive, he said.
Rescuers try to access the caves from overhead locations, using new maps to narrow the search area. Nearly 50 pumps are now at the caves but water levels continue to rise. A team from the US military’s Pacific Command and expert British cavers and divers arrive.
Thursday, June 28: Intense rain hampers mission
Torrential rain forces searchers to pause for an agonising five hours. Power is temporarily shut off. Finally, crews are able to restart their efforts. Drones, including some with thermal cameras, are deployed. Heavy-duty pumps are brought in to stem the rising tide of floodwaters.
Friday, June 29: Help arrives from China
A team of six Chinese experts arrives at the cave site in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, according to the Chinese Embassy in Thailand.
Climbers shimmy down a chimney into the cave complex, deep in the jungle to the north of the opening where the boys’ bikes were found. Drilling is underway in several points in the cave complex, primarily to relieve flooding.
Saturday, June 30: Australian help arrives
Australia also deploys a team of six experts from its national police’s Specialist Response Group. The team, which typically carries out land search-and-rescue operations, also has experience diving in flooded cave.
Sunday, July 1: The rescue mission continues
The international rescue operation – including the Thai SEALs, along with experts from at least six countries – has been working to reach a large, deep chamber, informally known as Pattaya Beach, where the missing boys are believed to have taken refuge.
Monday, July 2: Relief at last
Rescue teams find all 12 boys and their soccer coach alive in the cave, Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn says.
But the rescue mission isn’t over yet.
“We will drain all water out from the cave. Then we will take all 13 people out of the cave,” Osottanakorn says.
“We are now planning how to send (a) nurse and doctor inside the cave to check their health and movement. We will work all night.”
The team will likely need medical treatment, including fluids, rescue consultant Pat Moret tells CNN.
“Worse case scenario is they have to dive them out,” he says, .
“It won’t be anything like diving that most people recognise. It will be diving in what is effectively muddy water, possibly fast flowing, with no sense of direction,” he said.
It will be a challenge for divers to take the children through the flooded section, Moret says.
[Update] After hearing what diving experts and rescue personnel have had to say, one thing is clear – getting the boys and their coach out won’t be an easy feat.
What are the main obstacles?
Water levels. It’s monsoon season in Thailand and water levels could rise with a downpour, negating current efforts to drain the cave. The monsoon season ends in October, so if the plan is to wait out the wet weather, they’ll be there a while. It’s probably a good thing then that Thai authorities are sending them four months’ worth of food.
But wait – the rocks are porous! According to Tim Taylor, an experienced ocean explorer and expert on underwater robotics, the composition of the rock means that “It’s a giant sponge so if the water rises anywhere on the water table, it affects the whole cave system,” meaning that if the rocks’ structural integrity becomes compromised, they may be faced with the prospect of having to dive them out.
They are malnourished. The boys have had nothing to eat for nine days and are weak. Anmar Mirza, a cave rescue expert says that they can barely walk and a full meal could kill them right now. Sustenance is being introduced to them gradually and carefully. It will be a while before they will be strong enough to even attempt to get out.
They don’t know how to dive. In order to get to them, experienced divers navigated difficult conditions to find them over nine days, let alone inexperienced kids who might not even know how to swim.
Sure, they could learn to dive but the prospect is just plain scary and downright dangerous. To put things in perspective, Mirza says that diving them out is “Physically strenuous.” They would be “…In water, through blackout conditions, through tight squeezes for hundreds of meters. It’s something that skilled cave divers spend hundreds of hours training for after they have already been open water divers for quite some time. A moment of panic or loss of the breathing regulator can be fatal for the novice diver, and may also put the cave diver escorting him in danger.”
In short – until they can dive, getting out of there the way the divers came in is probably not an option.
Additional words by June See.