Thai cave rescue: Timeline of a desperate race to save 12 boys and their coach

Thai Navy Seals navigating a flooded section of Tham Luang cave on July 1, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
Relieved family members celebrating upon news that all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, on July 2, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
Thai soldiers carrying equipment inside the flooded cave complex as the rescue operation for a missing youth soccer team and their coach at Tham Luang cave continues in the Chiang Rai province, Thailand. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Australian aid authorities discussing as they join the search and rescue operations in Chiang Rai province, Thailand, on July 1, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Local women attending a Buddhist prayer for the missing children at a school near Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province, Thailand, on July 1, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
A Thai Airforce worker dropping into the forest by helicopter as the rescue operation continues, on June 30, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

MAE SAI, THAILAND (AFP) - Rescue efforts were under way since Sunday morning (July 8) to bring the 12 trapped boys and their football coach safely out of Tham Luang cave.

Eighteen divers were sent into the flooded Thai cave at 10am local time (11am Singapore time), with the earliest the boys would emerge said to be around 9pm.

The footballers were trapped for nine days in the cave before they were found alive.

Here's how the gruelling nine-day search in the 10km-long cave filled with fast-flowing muddy flood waters unfolded and what followed in the days after.


The youngsters, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach go into the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand after football practice. They are reported missing by a mother after her young son fails to come home that night.

Local officials start to look for the boys after they are believed to have become trapped by heavy rain that cuts them off from the main entrance.

They find bicycles locked to a fence and shoes and football boots belonging to the children close to the entrance.


Park officials and police kick into gear to look for the boys, and heavy rain continues to fall in the area near the Laos and Myanmar borders.

They find handprints and footprints believed to belong to the boys and think they have likely retreated into the winding tunnels as they became hemmed in by rising flood waters.

Relatives keep a vigil outside the cave, where they will stay for nine days straight, desperately awaiting news.


Thai Navy Seal divers are in the cave searching for the boys, carrying oxygen tanks and food.

Makeshift shrines are set up for parents to pray and make offerings.

Heavy rain continues, sparking fears that flood waters within the cave could rise.

The boys are believed to have retreated farther into the cave to an elevated air pocket called "Pattaya Beach".


Thai rescue personnel carry oxygen tanks inside the Tham Luang cave during search operations to find the missing members of the children's football team along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai, on June 26, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Divers reach a T-junction several kilometres inside the cave but are forced back by rushing flood waters that clog a narrow crevice near Pattaya Beach.

Rescue operations run around the clock but it is a race against time as rain continues to fall.

Thailand's junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha calls for the nation to support the rescue.


Thai officials discuss rescue operations for the missing football players and their coach at the Tham Luang cave in Tham Luang Khun Nam Nang Noon Forest Park in Chiang Rai province, Thailand, on June 27, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A team of more than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command, including pararescue and survival specialists, arrive at the site late Wednesday.

They are joined by three British diving experts who go into the cave's entrance but quickly retreat because of heavy flooding.

Continuing rain causes flood levels to rise, and officials say conditions are "difficult".


Members of the US Special Operations Command Pacific Search and Rescue Team surveying the cave area as they join the rescue operation for the missing football players and their coach at the Tham Luang cave, on June 28, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The underwater rescue is temporarily halted because of the fast-moving floods inside the cave as downpours refuse to let up.

Water pumps are shipped in to drain the rising flood waters that are so murky it is likened to swimming through cold coffee.

American experts get to work around the base, while the three British divers and others scour the mountain for alternative entrances into the cave.

Drones are dispatched to help look for new chimneys.


Thai workers and associated officials watch at the flooded Tham Luang Khun cave as attempts to drain the water were ongoing, on June 29, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A glimmer of hope as rescue teams find a possible opening, but there is no guarantee it will connect to the main cave network.

Prayut Chan-o-cha visits the site, leads a meditation, and jokes and cooks with relatives, asking them not to give up hope.


Thai rescue specialists (in orange) help a Thai Airforce soldier down a possible opening to the Tham Luang cave, at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province, on June 30, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

A break in the bad weather allows divers to reach farther inside the cave but they are still several kilometres from where the boys are believed to be.

Teams continue to search for alternative openings above ground and rescuers conduct practice drills to safely evacuate the boys if and when they are found.


A monk lights a candle at a shrine during a Buddhist prayer for the missing children near Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, on July 1, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Divers inch farther into the cave, taking advantage of the brief break in bad weather.

Rescuers set up an operating base inside the cave, and hundreds of oxygen tanks and other supplies are pulleyed in. Divers can now remain underground for longer.

As the sun breaks out, Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorne says conditions for the operation are improving.


A screengrab from footage released by The Royal Thai Navy, on July 2, 2018, shows the missing children inside the Tham Luang cave of Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province. PHOTO: AFP

A miracle, finally: The 12 boys and their coach are found alive and safe about 400m farther along from Pattaya Beach, which has become threatened by encroaching flood waters.

Crowds at the teeming rescue site cheer the good news and a nation breathes a sigh of relief.

But attention now turns to the difficult task of getting the boys out safely.

The main priority is to get them food and first aid after nine days with little to eat in difficult conditions.

It could take days - or weeks - to get them out. Rescuers explore several options, including training them to use scuba equipment.


British divers Richard William Stanton (left) and John Volanthen (centre) walk to Tham Luang cave in Thailand's Chiang Rai province on July 3, 2018, after 12 children and their football coach were found alive in the cave. PHOTO: AFP

A team of medical personnel from the Thai army, including a military doctor and a nurse, arrived at the mound at 11am after making a six-hour dive-and-trek perilous journey via the cave entrance.

They have volunteered to stay with the trapped boys for as long as it takes for them to be safely evacuated from the cave.

The team consist of Dr Pak, who had graduated from the Seal training course, a nurse from the Royal Thai Navy's underwater and hyperbaric medicine unit, and seven members of the Thai navy Seals.


Thai rescuers carry oxygen tanks to Tham Luang cave on July 5, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

More generators were taken to the cave system to power the industrial pumps draining about 1.6 million litres of water per hour - enough to fill over half an Olympic-sized pool. This has helped to reduce water levels inside by 1cm an hour.


Former Thai navy Seal diver Saman Kunan died as he was making his way out of Tham Luang cave. PHOTO: THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Former Thai navy Seal diver Saman Kunan, who volunteered for the rescue operation, died as he was making his way out of the cave after placing oxygen tanks deep inside the underground complex.

The 38-year-old's death underscored the risks involved in bringing the 12 boys and their football coach out through the cave's cramped, flooded passageways.

Intermittent rain in the area and more downpours forecast until Wednesday have hindered efforts to drain water from the cave system.

Thai authorities also warned that oxygen levels have dropped due to the number of people working in the cave.


Military personnel carry a water pump machine as they enter Tham Luang cave on July 6, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA

More than 100 shafts are being drilled into a mountainside in a frantic bid to reach the group trapped in the cave complex below.

"Some (of the shafts) are as deep as 400 metres... but they still cannot find their location yet," head of rescue operation Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters, adding the mission lacked the technology "to pinpoint where they are staying".

Rescuers have also managed to establish a line to pump in fresh air and have withdrawn non-essential workers to preserve levels inside the cave.


Divers arrive at the Tham Luang cave complex on July 8, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Rescue efforts began with 18 divers sent into Tham Luang cave. The earliest the boys would emerge could be 9pm (10pm Singapore time). This is because of the long journey from the entrance to where they are located, according to The Guardian.

The divers - 13 international and five Thais - went into the cave at 10am local time. The operation could take two to three days to complete.

"Today is the peak of our readiness," Mr Narongsa said.

Divers lead the first two four of the boys out of the cave at 5:40pm and another two before 8pm. All four were the hospital.

Mr Narongsak says late in the evening that the rescue mission will not start again for at least another 10 hours to allow oxygen and other supplies to be replenished.


As dusk falls four more boys are rescued. The Thai Navy Seals greet another seemingly successful day with a social media post saying "Hooyah".


The final phase of the operation begins with the rescue chief saying the remaining four boys and the coach, will be "extracted today" alongside three Thai Navy Seals and doctor who have stayed with them.

Health officials say the eight rescued so far are in good physical and mental health but more tests are being carried out.

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