Thai cave rescue: Soccer team found alive one kilometer underground

CNN/ Newswire | 7/3/2018, 7:50 a.m.
Thais reacted with relief and jubilation after rescue teams reported that they'd found all 12 boys and their soccer coach ...
Rescue efforts are underway and hopes are high, after 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a Thai cave for more than a week were found alive.

By Kocha Olarn and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

(CNN) -- Thais reacted with relief and jubilation after rescue teams reported that they'd found all 12 boys and their soccer coach alive in a cave in Thailand nine days after the group went missing.

Rescuers at the scene outside Chiang Rai in northern Thailand cheered, exchanged high fives and slapped each others' backs as it emerged that British cave divers had made contact with the boys deep withing the cave complex, after navigating tight, flooded passages to reach them.

The Thai Navy released a video on Facebook apparently showing the moment the group were found. In the almost 5-minute clip, the boys are illuminated by torchlight while a diver can be heard speaking to them.

In the tape of the encounter, one of the British rescuers asks, in English, how many were in the group. Thirteen, the boys report. "Thirteen, brilliant!" the diver replies -- the number accounts for the entire missing party.

"We are coming, many people are coming. Many people, we are the first." The dazed boys, unaware of how long they've been trapped deep underground, ask what day it is.

"It's Monday, you have been here 10 days, 10 days," the rescuer replies. "You are very strong, very strong. We come, ok, we come."

The boys repeatedly tell them, in Thai, that they're hungry and need food. The rescuer replies that a Thai Navy SEAL team will come, along with "food and doctors and everything."

The boys, who are between 11 and 16 years old, are all members of the Wild Boar soccer team. They entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system on Saturday, June 23 but became stranded in the dark tunnels by a sudden and continuous downpour.

International rescue teams -- which include the Thai Navy SEALs as well as experts from the US, China, Australia and the UK -- had been working to reach a large, deep chamber, informally known as Pattaya Beach, where the missing boys were believed to have taken refuge.

"I confirm they are all safe," Narongsak Osottanakorn, governor of the local region Chiang Rai, told reporters on Monday night.

Family members greeted the news with relief and tears of happiness, punching the air when they heard that their boys were alive.

"I was happy to hear the cheering from the rescue workers. I felt that I have hope that I am going to get to see my son alive," said Adisak Wongsukjan, whose 14-year-old son Ekarat is one of the boys seen huddling in the cave.

"I want to hug my son... usually our family sleep in the same bed together. We are a very close family."

Deep underground

In the days following the boys' disappearance into the vast network of tunnels, rescuers had focused on reaching Pattaya Beach, on the assumption that boys and their coach would go there to escape rising flood waters.

However, Osottanakorn said when rescuers reached Pattaya Beach they found it too was underwater. Divers continued a further 300 to 400 meters where they found the team perched on a muddy incline.