THE UNPRECEDENTED MISSION to evacuate the “Wild Boar” football team from a flooded Thai cave finished on Tuesday after the final four boys and their coach were extracted by elite foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALs.
The final stage of the complex operation, which has gripped Thailand and dominated global headlines, put an end to the 18-day saga that started when the team entered the cave on 23 June.
Here is a timeline of the efforts to find and free the group:
- Saturday, 23 June -
The youngsters, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach enter the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand during heavy rains after football practice.
They are reported missing after the boys do not come home that night.
Local officials find bicycles locked to a fence and shoes and football boots close to the entrance.
- Sunday, 24 June -
Park officials and police find handprints and footprints believed to belong to the boys. Relatives start to keep vigil outside the cave.
- Monday, 25 June -
Thai Navy SEAL divers enter the cave searching for the boys. Makeshift shrines are set up for parents to pray and make offerings as heavy rains continue.
- Tuesday, 26 June -
Divers are forced out of the cave by rushing floodwaters as they try to reach an air pocket called “Pattaya Beach”, where the boys are believed to have retreated.
- Wednesday, 27 June -
A team of more than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command arrive and are joined by three British diving experts who start to probe the cave.
- Thursday, 28 June -
Downpours create fast-moving floods inside the cave forcing a suspension of the rescue. Water pumps start draining rising, murky floodwaters.
- Friday, 29 June -
Thailand’s junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha visits the site and urges relatives not to give up hope.
- Saturday, 30 June -
A break in the rain allows divers to reach further inside the cave but they are still a long distance from where the boys are believed to be.
- Sunday, 1 July -
Divers inch further in, as an operating base is set up inside “Chamber Three” and hundreds of air tanks and other supplies are pulleyed in.
- Monday, 2 July -
Finally, a miracle: the 12 boys and their coach are found alive late Monday evening about 400 metres beyond Pattaya Beach by the British cave diving team.
Crowds at the teeming rescue site cheer the good news, but attention soon turns to the difficult task of getting the boys out safely.
- Tuesday, 3 July -
Much-needed food and medical supplies – including high-calorie gels and paracetamol -reach the boys as rescuers prepare for the possibility that they may remain in the cave for some time.
- Wednesday, 4 July -
Officials say the group are being taught how to use diving masks and breathing apparatuses. Teams pump out water around the clock to help clear the path for divers.
- Thursday, 5 July -
Authorities say expected rains may force a complex rescue sooner than first thought.
- Friday, 6 July -
Tragedy strikes: a diver helping to establish an air line to the boys dies after passing out while returning from the chamber, raising serious doubts over the safety of attempting a rescue.
Thailand’s Navy SEAL commander says oxygen levels inside have dropped. He warns the window of opportunity to free the youngsters is “limited”.
- Saturday, 7 July -
Rescue operations chief Narongsak Osottanakorn says the boys are not ready to dive to safety.
A scrawled message emerges from the team’s coach, offering his “apologies” to their parents, while in other touching notes the boys tell their relatives not to worry.
- Sunday, 8 July -
Divers lead the first four boys out of the cave as night falls.
Narongsak says late in the evening that the rescue mission will not start again for at least another 10 hours to allow oxygen and other supplies to be replenished.
- Monday, 9 July -
As dusk falls four more boys are rescued. The Thai Navy SEALs greet another seemingly successful day with a social media post saying “Hooyah”.
- Tuesday, 10 July -
The last four boys and the coach are safely brought out of the Tham Luang cave in one of the fastest days of the 72-hour operation.
Later in the evening, the last four divers who had helped with the rescue also emerge safely from the cave.
Health officials say the eight boys rescued on the first two days of the mission were in good physical and mental health but more tests are being carried out.
- Wednesday, 11 July -
Despite the positive health assessments so far experts said they would all need to be monitored closely for signs of psychological distress that could take months to manifest itself.
The boys are expected to spend a week in a hospital in Chiang Rai and six months of psychological monitoring.
- Thursday 12 July -
Members of the Thai navy SEAL team, who were among the first searchers to penetrate the watery depth of Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the last divers out, flew to their base at Sattahip on the Gulf of Thailand, where they received a heroes’ welcome.
The ceremony was capped with their commander leading a rousing round of the navy cheer ‘Hooyah!’ that became a trademark of their never-say-die effort to extricate the boys.
Foreign helpers, including some of the world’s best cave divers, also began travelling home.
© – AFP 2018
With reporting from Associated Press