BANGKOK (AFP, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - "How many of you?” asks the British voice loudly, a torchlight scanning the gaunt, hungry boys crowded on a muddy bank.
“Thirteen?.... Brilliant” – a remarkable short exchange captured on video has electrified Thailand and paved the way for an astonishing rescue.
The video, which captures the twelve dishevelled and emaciated boys and their football coach sheltering on a slope in the pitch-black belly of a flooded Thai cave, was posted on the official Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEAL early on Tuesday.
Hours later it has been viewed 16 million times.
The footage starts with a touching chorus of “thank you” from the boys, as the rescuers wade through the mucky water towards them.
The figures of the 13 loom eerily in and out of the torchlight, framed by the darkened walls of the cave. Some have their red football shirts pulled low over bare knees to keep out the cold – a sign of their unreadiness for nine days in the Tham Luang cave complex.
They look dazed but those who speak appear lucid, despite the long stretch without food.
The conversation continues with murmurs of Thai as the group confers, punctuated by reassurances from the diver.
‘You’re very strong’
One boy asks in halting English if they will “go outside”. “No, no, not today... there’s two of us, you have to dive... we are coming, it’s ok. Many people are coming, many, many people, we are the first... many people come.”
The diver raises his fingers to show the group has been underground for 10 days, adding “you’re very strong”. The diver gives the boys an extra light as the camera jags around and the audio fails, but steadies as one of the boys says “I am very happy.”
“We are happy too,” the diver adds.
“Thank you so much,” say the boys, unfailingly polite despite the urgency of their situation.
They are from the “Wild Boar” football team and the first visual evidence of their survival lit up a country that has followed every permutation of a painstaking rescue that at times looked forlorn with floods rushing through the winding tunnels.
A three-member British team – Robert Harper, Richard Stanton and John Volanthen – arrived in Thailand last Wednesday (June 27) to aid the search. Two of the Brits reached the boys late Monday, sparking joy in a country that has held its breath throughout the agonising rescue efforts.
It was not immediately clear which diver speaks on camera. The team has avoided media all week, with Volanthen telling reporters only: “We’ve got a job to do” when he arrived at the site.
Social media in Thailand erupted following the news the boys were alive and safe and “13 lives survive” was the top Thai Twitter hashtag on Tuesday.
"I am almost in tears, you’re so brave and tough,” Facebook user Pharanya Suntaranusorn wrote under the video.
Elation at the survival of the group was tempered by the reality of a difficult extraction ahead and the possibility of psychological damage from the trauma of being trapped in the dark bowels of a mountain for a prolonged period.
“It’s hard to tell (the state of their mental health) from the clip,” said Wimonrat Wanpen, spokesperson from the Mental Health Department of the Public Health Ministry.
“Their lives are getting much better after several days of crisis... but whether they will develop trauma depends on many factors.”
The following is a transcript of the conversation between the boys and the British divers as posted on Facebook:
Diver: Raise your hands.
Boy: Thank you [CRYING].
Diver: How many of you?
Boy: Yeah, yeah.
Boy: [Voice difficult to be heard]
Diver: No, not today. Just two of us. We have to dive. We are coming. It's OK. Many people are coming. Many, many people. We are the first. Many people come.
Boy: What day?
Diver 1: Tomorrow.
Diver 2: No, no, no, what day is it?
Diver: Monday. OK, but one week... uh, Monday. You have been here for 10 days. You are very strong.
Boy: [IN THAI]: Who knows English, translate for us.
Boy 2: [IN THAI]: Can't catch up with the words.
Diver: We'll come.
Boy: We are hungry.
Diver: I know, I know. I understand. We'll come.
Boy 1: [IN THAI]: They will take our photos first.
Boy 2: [IN THAI]: Tell them we are hungry.
Boy 1: I've told them. They know.
Boy: What day you come to help me?
Diver: We come here, we have been diving here for what... Tomorrow, we'll help tomorrow. The Navy, Navy Seal tomorrow. With the food, the doctor and ...
Today, a light? You have a light. We'll give you more light.
[Sound of somebody falling into water]
Boy: Come up. Brother, rush up.
Diver: That looks fun.
Boy: I am very happy.
Diver: We are happy too.
Boy: Thank you so much.
Boy: Where you come from?
Diver: England, UK.