Even the hardened Thai Navy Seal unit was at a loss to explain the achievement in rescuing 12 young football players and their coach from a flooded cave: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what,” the Seals said on their Facebook page yesterday.
As tears of joy followed the cheers around Thailand and around the world about the “against all odds” rescue, which turned a possible tragedy into an actual triumph, there was plenty of discussion about what had happened.
It was clear that the mission could not have succeeded if predicted heavy rains had fallen over the cave catchment area. Yet, meteorologists said rainfall in the first 10 days of July was much lower than normal.
Thousands of religious saw the dry spell as an answer to their desperate pleas to Jao Mae Nang Non – which roughly translates as the reclining goddess – and her name is shared with the cave, Tham Luang Nang Non, as well as the surrounding mountain, Doi Nang Non.
She is believed to be the guardian of the caves, which play a significant spiritual role in the lives of many Thai people.
The ‘Wild Boars’ team, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach became trapped on June 23, while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.
British divers found the 13, hungry and huddled in darkness on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the Tham Luang cave complex, last Monday.
After pondering for days how to get the 13 out, a rescue operation was launched on Sunday when four of the boys were brought out, tethered to rescue divers.
Another four were rescued on Monday and the last four boys and the coach were brought out yesterday, prompting rounds of spontaneous applause as ambulances and helicopters passed.
Celebrations were tinged with sadness over the loss of a former Thai navy diver who died on Friday while on a re-supply mission inside the cave.
“I want to tell the coach thank you so much for helping the boys survive this long,” said one Chiang Rai woman wearing a traditional dress, tears brimming in her eyes. “I remember all of their faces, especially the youngest one. He’s the smallest one and he doesn’t have as much experience as the others … I felt like he was one of my own children and I wanted him to come home.”
The last five were brought out of the cave on stretchers, one by one yesterday, and taken by helicopter to hospital.
Three members of the Seal unit and an army doctor, who has stayed with the boys since they were found, were the last people due to come out of the cave, the unit said.
The eight boys brought out on Sunday and Monday were in good health overall and some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast, officials said earlier. Two of the boys had suspected lung infections but the four boys from the first group rescued were all walking around in hospital.
Volunteers from as far as Australia and the US helped with the effort to rescue the boys.
US President Donald Trump hailed the rescue. “Such a beautiful moment – all freed, great job!” he tweeted.
British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: “The world was watching and will be saluting the bravery of all those involved.”
Ivan Karadzic, who runs a diving business in Thailand and has been involved in the rescue mission, told the BBC: “I cannot understand how cool these small kids are, you know? Thinking about how they’ve been kept in a small cave for two weeks, they haven’t seen their mums.
“Incredibly strong kids. Unbelievable almost.”
– Reuters & AFP