Heroic British divers rescue four boys from Thailand cave in harrowing mission; nine more wait inside

The boys who had no previous experience of diving were guided through the narrow passageways by expert divers. Reports say the second round of the rescue mission has begun.

                            Heroic British divers rescue four boys from Thailand cave in harrowing mission; nine more wait inside
(Source:Getty Images)

After being rescued in a sudden and striking operation, four of the 12 footballers trapped inside a submerged cave in Thailand had their first breath of fresh air under the sun in more than two weeks. Led by expert British divers, the young boys were masterfully guided to safety after being stuck for over 15 days in the malodorous underground cave network in a sensational three-and-a-half-hour mission.

The youngsters swam through the jagged cave tunnels for the first time in their lives, having no previous diving experience. Wearing full-face masks, they crossed miles of the mud-clogged cave, which tragically claimed the life of an elite Thai Navy SEAL on Friday. 

The footballers were endearingly hugged by their British rescuers upon reaching the mouth of the dreaded Tham Luang cave.

Their parents, who have religiously waited outside the cave entrance, holding a desperate two-week vigil for their children, were finally reunited with them in tears before they were rushed to a hospital set up nearby. Namely, the first boy to emerge out of the cave was 13-year-old Monhkhol Boonpiam, also known as Mark. The second braveheart was Prajak Sutham, also known as Note. 

Then came 14-year-old Nattawoot Thakamsai, who suffers from asthma and who has already lost a baby sister to cancer. Finally, it was 15-year-old Pipat Bodhu, who championed the daunting survival task. Notably, Bodhu was not even a part of the football team. He had only come along with them as a friend of the goalkeeper. 

As tears of joy roll down the parents' eyes, the remaining eight players and the 25-year-old coach of the Wild Boars football team eagerly wait to see the light of day. They are still stranded half a mile deep in the cavern, until tomorrow. Although mission commanders remain "at war with water and time" due to torrential monsoon downpours flooding the cave, they paused the operation overnight to replenish oxygen supplies and give the rescue team a break.

Local reports say that the rescue operations had commenced at 8am local time today. The rescue operation was so far aided by the fact that there was walkable water levels while the threat of rains continued to egg them on. Before commencing yesterday's perilous operation, a combination of the weakest and strongest boys was picked from the stranded team. While earlier it was decided that the stronger boys would come out first, a member of the rescue time advised otherwise. 

Scenes of joyous tears featured on television screens across the nation as the Thai king led tributes to both the rescuers and the schoolboys last night. From across the globe, President Donald Trump offered his congratulations to the rescue team and praised their bravery. 

Describing her nephew as a strong, caring, and intelligent human being, Note's aunt told the Daily Mail that he would be so excited by an offer from football authorities to the World Cup final in Moscow that "he would punch the air". According to her, Note has always dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. In a conversation with the Daily Mail, the mother of Mark, Namhom Boonpiam, said she had always kept faith in the rescuers. That being said, experts have warned that the children could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder even after the ordeal is behind them.

Nightmares, sleeping problems, headaches, clinginess with parents, as well as getting angry and upset easily are some of the problems to be expected due to their harrowing experience.

The head of the stress and development lab at Kings College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, Dr. Andrea Dese, said: "In the longer term, most children will recover from the initial emotional symptoms. A sizeable minority, 10 to 30 percent, will, however, experience enduring mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD."

Having said that, the families of the boys left behind still desperately wait outside the mouth of the cave. If all goes well, they could see their children as early as tomorrow or the day after. Seven highly-skilled British cave divers, who are being touted as "masters of their profession", escorted the four aspiring footballers through narrow tunnels over several tense hours.

They were supported by five Thai Navy SEALS,  five other international divers, and 70 other divers in support roles, over 50 of whom were foreigners. Regional governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, the commander of yesterday's rescue operation, announced before the operation commenced:  "Today we are most ready. Today is D-Day."

He said that if they ignored the chance yesterday, the children could be stuck inside until January. Osatanakorn further added: "Today we reached peak readiness – in terms of kids’ health, water, and our rescue readiness. It has been our masterpiece work."

Owing to the successful pumping operation that drained over 190 million liters of water from the cave network, the operation proceeded much faster than anticipated, even making some parts of the cave walkable. "Although there are some slightly difficult parts [where] we have to bend or crawl, we can say that we can just walk through it. We will have to do the next mission as successfully as the one we did today," he said.

14-year-old Nattawoot Thakamsai, the third teenager to come out, was in need of immediate medical attention, and thus was airlifted to the hospital straight from the cave entrance instead of using an ambulance.

The Thai navy SEALS announced their success on their Facebook page last night, saying: "Have a good dream tonight. Night. Hooyah."