Thai boys given 'minor tranquiliser' as they were passed through treacherous cave pathways on stretchers
Near-disaster after water pumps failed
The Thai hospital where the 12 boys and their football coach are recuperating after being rescued from a flooded cave released a video yesterday showing them in their hospital beds, smiling and chatting with nurses.
It shows the boys in an isolation ward in beds with crisp white sheets and wearing green surgical masks. Some parents are seen crying and waving to them from behind glass.
Chaiwetch Thanapaisal, director of Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, told a news conference with officials involved in the rescue that "everyone is strong in mind and heart".
The video surfaced as it emerged that the boys were passed 'sleeping' on stretchers through the treacherous cave pathways. A former Thai Navy Seal who was the last diver to leave the Tham Luang complex told reporters some of the first details of the operation, which has been shrouded in secrecy since it began on Sunday.
"Some of them were asleep, some of them were wiggling their fingers... (as if) groggy, but they were breathing," Commander Chaiyananta Peeranarong said, adding that doctors stationed along the dark corridors of the Tham Luang cave were constantly checking their condition and pulse. "My job was to transfer them along," he said, adding the "boys were wrapped up in stretchers already when they were being transferred".
Thailand's junta chief said the group had been given a "minor tranquilliser" to help calm their nerves, but he denied they were knocked out for the rescue.
The 'Wild Boars' team, aged 11-16, had no experience in scuba diving, and the death of an ex-Navy Seal who had helped install oxygen tanks in preparation for the rescue underscored the dangers of the mission.
Thailand said it had called on 13 "world-class" divers to help including Australian Richard 'Harry' Harris, a diver and professional anaesthetist.
But the joyful end to the boys' ordeal, sparking celebration around the world on Tuesday evening, could have ended in disaster.
Yesterday morning it emerged that water pumps draining the area failed while rescuers were still inside, a few hours after the children's evacuation. Australian divers told their local press that rescue workers had been in a jubilant mood when they suddenly noticed the waters inside the cave were rising rapidly.
High-tech pumps that had been working furiously to drain the floodwaters had malfunctioned, they said, creating at a surge of water that made rescuers run for their lives. "The pumps failed and the water in the sumps had started rising," said a diver. Fortunately. everyone got out on time.
The 12 boys and their coach lost an average of 2kg during their 17-day ordeal but were generally in good condition and showed no signs of stress, a senior health official said.
They were taken by helicopter to a hospital about 70km away to join their teammates in quarantine. "From our assessment, they are in good condition and not stressed. The children were well taken care of in the cave," Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, an inspector for Thailand's health department, said.
Parents of the first four freed on Sunday have visited them but had to wear protective suits and stand 2m away as a precaution. Thongchai said one boy from the last group rescued had a lung infection and they were all given vaccinations for rabies and tetanus. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha asked that the boys be given time to recover. "The important thing is ... personal space," he said. "The best way is not to bother them."
The group ventured into the vast cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai after football practice on June 23 and were trapped when a rainy season downpour flooded tunnels. They were lost for nine days before they were discovered by British divers on July 2.