Alive: how one word lifted Thailand from the depths of despair, and lit faces with joy
Astonishing discovery sparked jubilation across Thailand after the country mounted a massive and gruelling operation beset by heavy downpours and fast-moving floodwaters
Thailand led the world rejoicing as a dozen teenage boys and their football coach who had been trapped in a cave were discovered nine days after they went missing.
A loud cheer was heard as soon as Narongsak Osotthanakorn, commander of the search mission and governor of Chiang Rai province, where the cave is located, told a press briefing that the members of the missing group were all alive.
“The latest report from our SEAL unit indicated that they went 400 metres (1,300 feet) further from Pattaya Beach because it was flooded and found all the 13 people safe,” Narongsak said.
Pattaya Beach is a sandhill inside the cave where the officials initially believed to group to be stranded.
Parents of the boys who have camped outside the cave for the past nine days cheered loudly and smiled for the first time.
“Which team won today?” one parent asked fellow parents jokingly, a reference to the ongoing football World Cup.
“Team Moo Pah Academy!” another parent obliged, dropping the name of the boys’ football team.
Messages of joy have flooded social media since the news broke.
“Heroes are not only in Marvel (Universe). Thank you,” wrote one Twitter user, a reference to the comic book company that owns Captain America, Thor and other beloved characters.
“It wasn’t a miracle. It was a power of hope and goodwill,” tweeted another.
But the mission is not yet over, according to Narongsak, as the boys must first receive medical treatment and food so they can be physically strong enough to be escorted out of the cave.
The Thai military said it was providing months’ worth of food and diving lessons to the boys.
The boys were discovered about 10:00pm Monday by British divers.
In a video, posted on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page, one of the boys shouts to the rescuers: “we are hungry, shall we go outside?”
In response the British diver says: “Many, many people are coming … we are the first,” in reference to the vast and complex rescue operation that has taken over the mountainside.
The team, consisting of boys ages 11-16 and their coach, had stopped by Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Cave near the Thai border with Myanmar, after a practice.
Their families say they were familiar with the cave, as it was not their first visit.
However, they likely underestimated the effect of the rainy season and have been trapped by a flash flood since June 23.
The discovery of their abandoned bikes, as well as footprints, handprints and belongings in the cave early in the week indicated that they had gone further inside the cave to avoid the flood.
The group is between 800 metres and a kilometre below the surface, and roughly two kilometres inside the cave.
“We called this ‘mission impossible’ because it rained every day … but with our determination and equipment we fought nature,” Narongsak said.
Tribune News Service, Agence France-Presse, The Guardian