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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Thai cave rescue: everything we know so far

How did the boys get trapped in the cave? How were they rescued?

An emergency rescue operation has been launched to rescue a Thai football team of 12 teenage boys and their coach who have been trapped inside the Tham Luang cave in Thailand for over two weeks.

After two days, eight of the "Wild Boars" had been rescued from the cave. They were immediately taken to hospital where they are said to be doing well.

On the third, and final day of the operation all of the boys were rescued by an international coalition of rescue workers.

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Read more:

Scenes of jubilation after final boys rescued from Thai cave

Thai cave rescue: how an international coalition pulled off 'mission impossible'

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The story of a group activity gone awry, the subsequent search for the youngsters, and the daring rescue operation, has gripped the world.

Here's how the emergency unfolded, and what might lie ahead...

How did the boys get trapped in the cave?

On June 23 the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) academy team finished football practice and took their bikes to explore a cave in the forests of northern Thailand.

The 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, were accompanied by their assistant coach.

However, Thailand's annual monsoon rains fell, and the entrance to the cave flooded.

Unfortunately, the boys could not swim to safety, so they retreated further into the cave, travelling around 2-3km before settling on a ledge surrounded by water.

An alert was raised after the boys did not return home, and local officials found the group's bikes, boots, and belongings at the entrance of the cave.

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Read more:

Day three: all 12 boys and their coach saved

Day two: Four more boys rescued providing hope for the remaining boys

Day one: Four boys rescued as the mission to save the boys begins

Editorial: Global support for Thai boys is inspiring

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How was the group found?

Shortly after the boys went missing, hundreds of people joined a search to find the youngsters.

Park officials, police, and soldiers all joined the search on foot, and a team was mobilised by air to try to find an alternate entrance to the cave.

On June 24 officials found handprints and footprints believed to belong to the boys, the next day Thai navy Seals entered the cave.

Worried relatives recited prayers for their children's safe return, while heavy rain continued to pour making the search for additional entrances tough.

Emergency services continued to accumulate as the news of the missing boys spread internationally. By June 27 more than 30 American military personnel arrive, along with three British diving experts.

They enter the cave, but are forced to retreat. The next day water pumps are shipped in to drain the murky floodwaters.

A tearful family member shows the latest pictures of the missing boys taken by divers inside Tham Luang cave in a miracle rescue after days of painstaking searching. LIllian Suwanrumpha / AFP
A tearful family member shows the latest pictures of the missing boys taken by divers inside Tham Luang cave in a miracle rescue after days of painstaking searching. LIllian Suwanrumpha / AFP

On June 30, a pause in the rains allowed Thai officials to set up a deep base inside the cave, shipping in lighting, oxygen tanks, and diving gear.

Officials thought the group might have sought refuge in a cavern known as Pattaya Beach, but in fact the group were 400m deeper inside.

In the meantime, large water pumps were installed in a nearby village to drain water from the area.

After nine days stranded, the boys finally saw the light - a torch belonging to two divers from the British Cave Rescue Council, John Volanthen and Richard Stanton, after the pair had conducted a three-hour trip.

"How many of you?" Mr Volanthen asked. "Thirteen? Brilliant."

The boys had been found.

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Are the boys safe?

For now, yes. The youngsters are under the care of Thai navy Seals and food and medical help was forthcoming.

The boys were found thin, but alive, and seemingly in good spirits.

High-calorie gels and medical supplies reached the youngsters via the British divers.

Shortly after, Thai navy Seals arrived with more supplies.

Videos showed emergency personnel applying antiseptic to cuts.

Doctors say the boys remained alive by drinking water dripping from stalactite formations on the cave ceiling.

There are fears that if heavy rains return to the area, as they are due to on July 8, the water level could rise, causing the ledge the group are on to disappear.

This could force an emergency evacuation prematurely.

The sign outside the entrance to the caves serves as an indicator to the dangerous months that may lie ahead - it warns against any entrance into the complex between July and November.

There is also a large risk of hypothermia.

The cold, wet, and fragile state of the boys means they are at risk of falling ill.

The group have been given foil thermal blankets and their condition is being monitored.

Some have expressed concerns about prolonged exposure to the darkness, and the mental health effects of being trapped for so long.

Lack of sunlight can disrupt the body's cardiac rhythm, which can cause sleeping problems, mood and gut function.

Ben Reymenants, a Belgian diver helping with the rescue, told AFP the boys are mentally stable.

"Luckily the coach had the sanity of mind to keep them all together, huddled together to conserve their energy - that basically saved them."

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How can they get out of the cave?

Rescue teams are exploring all options, but it's most likely that the boys will be taught to dive.

The navy Seals have started teaching them, and they are practising breathing with masks on.

This, however, will test the limits of technology and skill, The National's in-house diving expert says.

The water is murky and full of sediment and pollution, although the route could be lit with glow sticks to help the boys.

The breathing equipment, however, is bulky and sometimes fragile.

The Seals could position air-filled "stage tanks" along the route, allowing depleted supplies to be topped up.

Roy Cooper / The National
Roy Cooper / The National

Still, the boys will have to be taught to swim and then dive for up to 15 minutes at a time.

This could take weeks or months, and with more rains on the way, time is running out.

In the event of an underwater evacuation, the youngsters would be accompanied by two Seal divers each, and guided by a series of ropes.

Rescue teams are looking for alternative entrances, or chimneys, that could be used to extract the boys.

This would shorten the route the boys would have to take. At the moment it is 2-3kms long, which increases the risk of something going wrong.

Water pumps are working every hour of the day to drain the caves, making the exit route easier.

However, fluid is seeping through the porous limestone and contributing channels, which makes lowering the level of the water a constant battle.

On July 6, tragedy struck and the dangers of the operation became clear. Saman Kunan, a Thai navy Seal ferrying oxygen to the group, died after running out of air on the way back.

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The Thai cave rescue operation

On July 8 five Thai navy Seals and 13 international divers launched a daring rescue operation to extract the "Wild Boars" academy team from the Tham Luang cave.

The operation was pushed to a front by impending bad weather and depleting oxygen levels. Whether the rescue operation will be successful is yet to be seen.

Early on the morning of July 8 the international media were asked to clear the area. Shortly afterwards, the chief of the rescue operation announced the start of the mission.

Two divers will accompany each boy, guided by a rope. When faced by a narrow passage they divers will release the oxygen tank and gently guide the boy and the tank through seperately.

Officials have highlighted a T-junction called Sam Yak, towards the end of the cave network as the main "crisis" point for the boys.

After that point the tunnel widens, waters subside, and walking is possible. The boys will have also reached the forward operating base of the cave.

By the evening of July 8 four boys had been rescued from the cave. Dubbed by Thai officials at Moo (Boar) 1, 2, 3, 4, names affectionately taken up on social media, they were taken immediately to hospital where they received medical attention.

On July 9 the second day of the operation began. A team of over 100 rescued four more boys from the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand. They were immediately taken to Chiang Rai hospital where they joined their team mates.

Concern turned to optimism in the camp, which had grown steadily with volunteers, international media, and spiritual leaders. Shortly, after the second day of the operation finished, Thailand's prime minister visited the camp, and shook hands with the rescue divers. He then flew to Chiang Rai hospital to check on the children.

As the sun rose on the third day of the operation, heavy rain stopped, and the sun came out. International media burst into applause when they were told everyone would be rescued from the cave. The night before they had been told four was the best number to be rescued.

For now, the world waits with baited breath for news of a successful conclusion to the rescue operation.

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How does each rescue work?

Each of the boys are accompanied by two divers, one at the front, one at the back.

They are led through a predetermined route in the caves, guided by ropes.

Additional oxygen tanks are supplied incrementally so the boys and the divers can top up with oxygen.

Ramon Penas / The National
Ramon Penas / The National

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