This is how German Interior Minister Horst #Seehofer describes today’s deportation of Afghan migrants:
MAE SAI, Thailand—Rescue divers freed the last of 12 boys from a youth soccer team and their coach from a dark, flooded cave in northern Thailand on Tuesday, capping a daring international mission that captured the world’s imagination.
The effort united a diverse team of global experts in the fields of emergency rescue and cave diving for what many said was one of the most challenging such operations ever performed, a puzzle whose successful outcome will be case-studied for years.
Thai Navy SEALs said on Tuesday they guided the last group of four boys and their coach to safety from the depths of Tham Luang cave after more than two weeks underground, joining the other eight rescued on Sunday and Monday.
News of the evacuation echoed across the globe—with President Donald Trump calling it “a beautiful moment”—and drew cheers from hundreds of local residents and reporters near the site.
“We have been praying at so many temples for this,” said Songkran Somboonchote, a friend of the team’s coach, who had been closely following live television broadcasts on the rescue.
Among the complications in guiding out the 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team through the jagged paths of a semi-submerged cave to the entrance about three miles away was that none had scuba dived before and many couldn’t swim. They were guided out one-by along a rope and with oxygen tanks, braving strong currents and squeezing through flooded spaces as low as two feet high.
To calm their nerves, the boys were given anti-anxiety medicines for the journey, said Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, and dark glasses to protect their eyes when they emerged from the stark underground darkness.
Despite their ordeal, the first eight boys freed appeared in good spirits, doctors said, and had joked with the prime minister when he visited them at a nearby hospital on Monday night.
Thousands of volunteers contributed to the effort, including cave explorers and divers from Europe, U.S. military personnel, oil company engineers and scores of locals. Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi and former Brazilian star Ronaldo sent messages of support, while World Cup officials offered to take the boys to the tournament’s final in Russia on July 15.
Winding Cave Complex
Tham Luang cave, overhead view
the base camp and
soccer team are
Approximate location where team was found
Note: Cross sections show view looking into the cave.
Sources: French Federation of Speleology, surveys taken in 1986 and 1987 (cave path and cross sections); Thai government and staff reports (location details)
That is unlikely because the boys will be required to stay in a hospital in the nearby city of Chiang Rai for a week of recovery, where they are being held in quarantine to prevent the spread of any possible infection, officials said. Two of them show signs of pneumonia. Families are only permitted to view the boys through a glass screen.
“We will allow them to watch [the World Cup] on television,” said Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, a senior official at Thailand’s health ministry.
Medical officials said the boys would also have to forego some of the favorite dishes they requested, including a spicy dish of pork stir-fried with chili and basil and bread with chocolate spread. Instead, they are being fed a carefully-controlled diet of more easily-digestible foods (doctors relented and gave them a small bit of chocolate bread.)
The Wild Boars, a close-knit group of soccer fans from the Mae Sai area aged between 11 and 16, ventured into the six-mile long cave system on the afternoon of June 23 with their 25-year-old coach after a regular weekend practice match. Leaving their bicycles and bags near the entrance, they went further inside to explore, shrugging off warnings that the cave was prone to flooding during the rainy season, which typically runs from June to November.
Video footage of the boys’ bike ride to the cave showed that it was initially dry. But heavy rains soon lashed the jagged limestone hills beyond, triggering flash floods that cut them off from the entrance and forced them to find refuge in an elevated area several miles from the exit.
There they lasted nearly 10 days with only a handful of snacks and a little water. When that supply was exhausted they licked cave walls for moisture until two expert British rescue divers found them.
Rescue organizers then spent an agonizing six days planning the rescue. They cycled through plans that included sending in food and medical supplies to tide them over for the rest of the rainy season to drilling down through mountain to retrieve them. Those two options were discarded in part because of worsening air quality in the cave and because drilling teams were unable to locate the correct cavern despite digging more than 100 pilot holes.
When worsening weather threatened to bring more heavy rains and flood their space, authorities took the calculated risk of fitting by the boys with breathing equipment and guiding them out through the cave.
Experts consider cave diving one of the riskiest forms of scuba diving. When open-water divers get into trouble, they can return to the surface. Cave divers must either return or forge ahead until they find an opening. The mission required meticulous preparation, concentration and the ability to remain calm. Caves—unlike open water—are often pitch black and full of jagged rock formations. Divers can easily get lost or miscalculate their air supplies.
It’s a challenge even for experienced divers; one former Thai Navy SEAL diver, 38-year-old Saman Gunan, died last week when he ran out of air while placing extra gas tanks inside the cave.
Some caves, including Tham Luang, require divers to clamber up rock formations with heavy gas cylinders and scuba gear. Walls and rocks in narrow passages can limit movement and damage sensitive equipment. Visibility can be limited to mere inches, requiring divers to feel their way forward through the murky water.
“This cave… is so unpredictable that nobody dives in here. Period,” said Ben Reymenants, a cave diver who participated in the rescue effort. “It’s a good test for your nerves.”
Tech billionaire Elon Musk, whose engineers devised a mini-submarine as a backup plan to extract the boys, congratulated the “outstanding rescue team” on Twitter.
In all, more than 100 divers and rescue workers took part in the effort to rescue the soccer team, pulling out the boys in batches of four until the final day, when they also brought out coach Ekkapol Chantawong.
Family and friends say Mr. Ekkapol, who the boys affectionately call Coach Ek, played a pivotal role in keeping up the boys’ spirits. A former novice at a Buddhist temple, authorities said he guided the boys through meditation sessions to help slow their breathing and calm their nerves during the 10 days before they discovered.
Though the psychological impact from being trapped for so long underground could be considerable, experts said the boys’ optimism and good humor could help their recovery.
“The children on the team have the advantage in this situation compared to the coach,” said Jacob Hyde, director of a laboratory at the University of Denver who studies extreme environments. “The ability to bounce back is most likely going to be better, given the general optimistic outlook of most kids and teenagers.”