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CHIANG RAI: This handout video grab taken from footage released by the Thai government public relations department and government spokesman bureau on Wednesday shows members of the “Wild Boars” football team being treated at a hospital (top). A member of the Thai youth football team being moved on a stretcher (bottom left) during the rescue operation inside the Tham Luang cave. Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn (bottom right, centre) and the mission team celebrate after pulling off a complex rescue operation on Wednesday.—AFP
CHIANG RAI: This handout video grab taken from footage released by the Thai government public relations department and government spokesman bureau on Wednesday shows members of the “Wild Boars” football team being treated at a hospital (top). A member of the Thai youth football team being moved on a stretcher (bottom left) during the rescue operation inside the Tham Luang cave. Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn (bottom right, centre) and the mission team celebrate after pulling off a complex rescue operation on Wednesday.—AFP

CHIANG RAI: The 12 boys rescued from a Thai cave were sedated and passed on stretchers along the twisting, narrow passageways of the Tham Luang complex, a rescuer said on Wednesday as the first footage emerged of an astonishing mission that has captivated the world.

The video of the rescue, which ended on Tuesday when the final four boys and their 25-year-old coach eme­rged from the cave, was released by authorities who had until late Wednes­day closely guarded the details of the seemingly unprecedented operation. Other video footage shows several of the boys in hospital, in quarantine and wearing face masks but seemingly in good health as they nod, wave and flash peace signs to the camera.

Thai authorities have been coy on how a group of boys, many of whom could not swim and none with diving experience, could have navigated the treacherous narrow and submerged passageways of the Tham Luang complex, even with expert diving support.

After days of mounting speculation, a former Thai Navy SEAL diver broke the silence, revealing the boys were sleeping or partially-conscious as they were passed from diver-to-diver through the cave. “Some of them were asleep, some of them were wiggling their fingers... [as if] groggy, but they were breathing,” said Com­ma­­nder Chaiyananta Peeranarong.

“My job was to transfer them along,” he said, adding the “boys were wrap­ped up in stretchers already when they were being transferred” and were monitored at regular intervals by doctors posted along the kilometres-long escape route. He did not say if the coach, the only adult with the boys for nine days before they found, was able to dive and walk out unaided.

Junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday said the boys had been given a “minor tranquiliser” to prevent anxiety during the complex extraction bid. But he had denied they were knocked out for an operation the chief of the rescue had dubbed “mission impossible”.

The rescue was fraught with danger, a point underscored last Friday by the death of a retired Thai Navy SEAL diver as he ran out of air in the flooded cave complex. Then, with the final divers slowly exiting the cave on Tuesday, the pumps suddenly failed pushing the water level up towards head height in a previously wadeable section of the cave.

“If you didn’t use the water pump in that location, you could only come out with an oxygen tank,” ex-SEAL Com­mander Chaiyananta said. That left 20 or so divers scrambling to flee the rising waters, he said, explaining they narrowly made it out on time.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2018

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