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Thai boys drugged for great escape

A team of Royal Thai Navy SEAL divers inspecting the water-filled tunnel in the Tham Luang cave during the rescue operation. Picture Facebook.
A team of Royal Thai Navy SEAL divers inspecting the water-filled tunnel in the Tham Luang cave during the rescue operation. Picture Facebook.

THE total success of the Thai cave rescue is nothing short of a miracle.

The boys had spent more than two weeks in darkness, could barely swim, and were no doubt fearing for their lives as they made the dangerous 3km journey to the Tham Luang cave entrance.

All 12 boys and 25-year-old coach Ekkapol Chantawong are now recovering in hospital, with tests taken to screen for infections and assess their mental state.

But just how did they manage to pull through?

 

WHY THE RESCUE WAS SO DIFFICULT

There's no underestimating how difficult the journey was - not just physically, but psychologically. How do a dozen boys who can barely swim keep it together after more than two weeks in total darkness? Particularly knowing there's a chance they may not make it out alive?

There are reports the boys were sedated before they were removed from the cave, in order to keep them calm as they were extracted.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha clarified that it was an anti-anxiety medication, but they were still conscious.

"Who would chloroform them? If they're chloroformed, how could they come out? It's called anxiolytic, something to make them not excited, not stressed," he said at a press conference in Bangkok.

John Ismay, a New York Times reporter and former US Navy diving officer, said this type of cave diving is so dangerous that not even US military units use it for training.

He said the Navy doesn't allow divers to use scuba gear for these operations, which the Thai divers reportedly did, as it was likely the only available option in the circumstances.

Everything about the mission, he wrote, was a "trade-off between traditional safety considerations and operational necessity".

A cave poses its own unique risks. For one thing, if you get into trouble, you can't just dump your equipment and swim to the surface for air like you can while diving in the ocean. If you get caught in a narrow passageway, that could be the end.

The toughest challenge of the Tham Luang cave was near the beginning of the route, with a submerged choke point that was just 38cm high and 72cm wide.

 

The journey included a narrow ‘choke’ stretch just 38cm tall.
The journey included a narrow ‘choke’ stretch just 38cm tall.

 

So how did 12 children - who could barely swim, let alone dive - make it through the journey, particularly in their weakened state?

Ismay said the full-face mask, which the children reportedly wore, would have made it easier for them, because it adds the possibility of communicating through the water. The adult divers could talk to the children through the cave and make sure they were OK.

He also said it was unlikely they could see anything underwater, even with a flashlight, due to the murky conditions.

All things considered, it's nothing short of a miracle they survived.

 

HOW IS THE TEAM FEELING NOW?

The rescued team was placed in a quarantined hospital ward in northern Thailand to undergo rigorous medical testing.

The focus will be on assessing the boys' and coach's physical and mental health. They will undergo examinations of their eyes, nutrition levels and psychological state, while blood samples will be taken to screen for any potential infections.

 

The boys, who were trapped for over two weeks, will be screened for a number of infections.
The boys, who were trapped for over two weeks, will be screened for a number of infections.

 

Each footballer was placed in isolation behind a glass wall at the hospital, and they were not allowed to hug or touch their parents.

There were fears the trapped footballers may have developed pneumonia, leptospirosis - a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals - and melioidosis, a potentially-fatal disease found in contaminated soil. It's also likely they will be tested for hypothermia.

During a press conference at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital yesterday afternoon, a health official said the first eight rescued boys were suffering ailments including fevers, mild coughs and low heart rates, and at least two may have contracted a lung infection known as "cave disease".

"There are all kinds of diseases in the cave, from bats, from dirty water. Everything in there is very dirty," an emergency service worker told Reuters.

Cave disease is typically tested with urine, blood and tissue samples, and treated with antifungal medication.

Psychologists have deemed them in a good mental state, but there were earlier reports the boys were not yet allowed to watch TV, at least until the entire team had been safely rescued.

Dr Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, from the Ministry of Public Health and Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital, said the boys would remain in hospital for another week or so.

"Because the kids are still young, they are very resilient. They can talk normally, everybody is joyful and very glad to come out," he said.

"They're hungry a lot and want to eat a variety of food, but at this stage we're given food that is easily digested and bland. They can sit up and eat, but there are no worrying conditions.

"They asked for bread with chocolate, which we think is OK."

The best news is that they appear to have made it through the ordeal largely unscathed.

"The kids are footballers so they have high immune systems," Mr Jesada said. "We have to wait for microbiological results from the lab. They're immune systems are weakened so it's best they stay in hospital."

FIFA invited the boys to the World Cup final on Sunday, but were informed "that due to medical reasons, the boys will not be in a position to travel to Moscow".

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