Parents wait to hug sons as details of risky Thai rescue emerge

Footage shows quarantined boys in hospital as divers break their silence on the dangerous rescue operation.

Parents are still waiting to be reunited with their sons two days after the last members of a youth football team were extracted from a cave in northern Thailand, as details of the high-risk rescue operation have started to emerge. 

Footage released on Wednesday showed the boys with surgical masks on, sitting up in their hospital beds and making victory signs as family members looked on from behind a window.

Doctors have put the 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old football coach in quarantine while they are being tested for infectious diseases they may have contracted inside the Tham Luang cave complex. 

The “Wild Boars” football team got stuck inside the cave on June 23 after flooding caused by heavy monsoon rains blocked the entrance. 

They were found dishevelled and emaciated but alive on a muddy ledge 4km inside the cave, nine days after they went missing. 

A large rescue operation got under way on Sunday, with divers extracting the team in batches of four and five over the course of three days. 

Adisak Wongsukchan told Al Jazeera he gave his 14-year-old son Nong Bew a big thumbs up when he first saw him in hospital. 

“The first thing I want to do is hug him,” he said. “All parents have the same feeling. I want to see the face of my child and embrace him and ask him how he feels and how he’s doing.”

Rescue details

Meanwhile divers involved in the rescue operation have broken their silence on how the team managed to extract the boys and their coach from the cave where they had been stuck for more than two weeks. 

Thai Navy SEALs posted a nearly six-minute video on their Facebook page that shows rescue workers pass along green stretchers in which the boys were being transported. 

A Thai Navy SEAL diver told AFP news agency the boys were sleeping or partially conscious as they were carried out of the cave. 

“Some of them were asleep, some of them were wiggling their fingers … [as if] groggy, but they were breathing,” Commander Chaiyananta Peeranarong told AFP.

The boys were reportedly sedated though there have been conflicting reports about the kind of medicine they received, with some saying they got anti-anxiety medication to keep them calm while Peeranarong said some of them had been fully sedated. 

“The boys got special full-face masks with oxygen circulating all the time. The divers carried them out and they were wearing wetsuits to keep them warm,” Thai Navy SEAL Chief Apakorn Youkongkaew said. 

“We made them relaxed and calm and slowly moved them out. But they were very cold.”

A Belgian rescue diver involved in the operation told Dutch broadcaster NOS that ultimately not much diving was required on the way out, because a lot of water had been pumped out of the cave. 

“It was mostly a matter of clambering through mud, which was very tough,” Ben Reymenants said. 

Water pumps failed hours after the last boy was saved, sending rescue workers scrambling out for safety. 

Film adaptations

With the boys still recuperating in hospital, US-based production companies have already taken an interest in turning their story into a motion picture.

Ivanhoe Pictures President John Penotti on Wednesday issued a statement saying that Thailand’s Navy and government had selected the company for the film adaptation of the nearly three-week ordeal.

The planned film would reportedly be directed by Jon M Chu, who formerly directed Crazy Rich Asians. 

Christian film production company Pure Flix was also reportedly looking to create a film based on the story of the Wild Boars. 

Cofounder Michael Scott told Reuters news agency that producers from the company were already on the ground interviewing rescue workers.

Luis Urzua, a former Chilean miner who got stuck for 69 days inside a gold mine, said the boys should be cautious with financial offers and stay close to their families. 

“They and their families won’t have the capacity to cope with this kind of thing. We couldn’t cope and we were adults,” Urzua told Reuters. 

“That is important so these children can reintegrate little by little into their old environment, because they will be very traumatised and vulnerable.”

UK football team Manchester United invited the team as well as their rescuers to the Old Trafford stadium next season. 

The boys had earlier received an invitation to come watch the World Cup final in Russia, but doctors said they could not go as they were still confined to their hospital beds.

At least three of the boys in the team as well as their coach are stateless refugees and might have restricted travel rights, Reuters has reported. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies