Thai cave rescue: Footballers were 'drugged with horse tranquilizer' to keep them calm during rescue operation
Former Thailand Navy SEAL Chaiyananta Peeranarong said on Wednesday that the boys were asleep or semi-awake during the rescue mission
Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha admitted that the footballers rescued from a flooded cave network in Chiang Rai province were administered an anti-anxiety drug to prevent them from panicking during the harrowing underwater operation. Prayut confirmed that the kids were given the anxiolytic "to make them not excited, not stressed". The authorities have previously denied that the children were drugged.
A couple of elite British divers led the rescue and guided the languid youngsters along the two-and-mile tunnel route and out of the dreaded cave system. One of the elite divers said: "I was told the boys were given a dose of ketamine [a horse tranquilizer often used as a recreational drug] to keep them calm", while an American military diver added: "Those kids were proper knocked out." In a conversation with Daily Mail, Fernando Raigal, a Spanish diver who took part in the rescue, said: "The boys were sedated – they were unconscious."
However, Prime Minister Prayut denied this, saying: "All of the children were conscious during the operation."
The young footballers were carted on stretchers for some sections of the tunnel that were not flooded, according to an exceptional video footage that surfaced recently. On the other hand, while crossing underwater parts, the children were pulled along in a "dream-like" state by professional divers.
In the footage released by Thai Navy SEALs yesterday, the intimidating conditions within the cave network could be clearly seen, giving an inkling as to what the weakened boys had to go through in order to survive.
The video shows elite divers getting ready to plunge into muddy waters that many likened to "cold coffee."
As the children are passed along a chain of rescuers that included elite Thai Navy personnel and professional volunteers from around the globe, one can see that the boys appear to be motionless in the released footage -- a far cry from the idea that the children would swim out on their own volition.
In one of the parts of the said film, six rescuers grip the handles of a durable plastic cradle designed to carry the young boys through dry parts of the Tham Luang cave, while other volunteers haul ropes to carry the children up steep sections of the network.
The footballers inch slowly through the cramped tunnel which has been compared to the "S-bend" of a toilet bowl while being wrapped in foil blankets to keep them warm. The boys are then lowered down steep drops through narrow choke points in the tunnel.
That being said, the boys were not completely unconscious owing to the fact that at one point in the video, a boy is seen to be waving his hand slightly while gripping his fingers to make a fist.
From the footage, it is clear that none of the schoolboys could previously swim. Rescuers had been skeptical of the same, worried that they might panic underwater if they did not completely trust the divers to guide them out of entrapment.
Chaiyananta Peeranarong, the Thai navy commander, said: "Some of them were asleep, some of them were wiggling their fingers... [as if] groggy – but they were breathing."
In the sophisticated operation, doctors were lined up along corridors of the cavern to routinely check on the boys' condition and pulse, Peeranarong added.
The kids along with their rescuers also had to step over miles of piping that had been laid down to pump out water from the flooded tunnels. Due to the dwindling levels of oxygen underground, the children were given full-face diving masks even while crossing dry sections of the cavern.
The boys had been in the dark for so long that it would take a while for their eyes to acclimatize to sunlight. To facilitate them, they were handed sunglasses before being carried to helicopters that waited outside.
32-year-old Derek Anderson, one of the American rescue specialists involved in the mission, asserted that the boys and their coach had been "incredibly resilient… and discussed staying strong, having the will to live, having the will to survive."
He said that the divers rehearsed their operation in a swimming pool with local kids with the same features and body dimensions as the trapped boys inside.
According to him, their aim was to keep each player of the Wild Boar team "tightly packaged" in order to facilitate divers to adjust their air supply as needed and keep total control. Anderson further added that the positive pressure diving masks given to the boys were critical to their well being.
The said masks were employed so that even if a boy panicked during the operation and water got inside his mask, the pressure would force it out. He said: "We were extremely fortunate that the outcome was the way it was."
Last night, it was revealed that just moments after the final boy was rescued, the pumps draining the water from the cave suddenly failed. Workers scrambled towards the entrance as water levels rapidly rose, said divers, who added that they could hear screams from inside the cave entrance. Narongsak Osottanakorn, the commander of the rescue operation, revealed yesterday that the Tham Luang cave will be turned into "a living museum", according to reports.