Sedated boys asleep during cave escape

Top News | 13 Jul 2018

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, as the first footage emerged of an astonishing mission that 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.

The nerve-shredding three-day operation ended when the final members of the "Wild Boars" were freed from the cave which had held them captive since June 23.

The rescue sparked jubilation with Thais heaping praise on the rescue team of foreign and local divers as the triumphant tagline "Hooyah" pinballed across social media.

But Thai authorities had 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," Commander Chaiyananta Peeranarong said. "My job was to transfer them along."

He added the "boys were wrapped up in stretchers already when they were being transferred" and were monitored at regular intervals by doctors posted along the kilometers-long escape route. He did not say if the coach, the only adult with the boys for nine days before they were found, was able to dive and walk out unaided.

Footage released by the Navy SEALs showed foreign and Thai divers using pulleys, ropes and rubber piping to haul stretchers bearing two of the barely moving young footballers to safety, their exit framed by the jagged cave overhead.

Junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha said the boys had been given a "minor tranquilizer" to prevent anxiety during the complex extraction bid. But he had denied they were knocked out for the operation.

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 cave complex.

Then, with the final divers slowly exiting the cave, the pumps suddenly failed, pushing the water level up toward head height in a previously wadeable section of the cave.

Despite spending days in the dark and dank cave health officials said the boys - who are aged 11 to 16 - are in good physical and mental health and eating normal food.

"It might be because they were all together as a team," public health ministry inspector general Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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