Thai cave rescue nearly ended in disaster when pumps FAILED shortly after they were evacuated, sending 'screaming' divers scrambling to the exit as water levels quickly went up

  • The 12 youth footballers and coach freed from cave in Chiang Rai, north Thailand
  • The final four and coach came out after being trapped in flooded cave for 18 days
  • Divers reveal how the life-saving pumps failed shortly after rescue ended
  • Rescue workers ran for their lives out of cave as the water began filling it again
  • All 13 are now recovering in hospital after minor health issues and weight loss
  • Parents have been able to see children through glass windows, but not hug them

The miracle rescue of 12 young football players and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand could have ended in tragedy, when pumps draining the water failed shortly after the final boy was rescued.

Advertisement

Divers at the scene have revealed how they heard screaming from further inside the cave and saw rescue workers scrambling towards the entrance as the water levels suddenly rose.

It came after the last remaining four school boys and their coach, who had been trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex for 18 days, were carried out on stretchers as the three-day operation came to an end.

Just about made it: Rescue workers are seen taking out the drainage system and machines after having to flee the cave when the main pump failed at the end of the operation
Just about made it: Rescue workers are seen taking out the drainage system and machines after having to flee the cave when the main pump failed at the end of the operation
Close call: Divers at the scene said the final boy had been rescued, but the Navy SEALS were still in the cave when the pump stopped working and the water levels rose
Close call: Divers at the scene said the final boy had been rescued, but the Navy SEALS were still in the cave when the pump stopped working and the water levels rose
Saved! All 12 players, pictured from top left clockwise, Adul Sam-on, 14, Panumas Saengdee, 13, Sompong Jaiwong, 13, Ekkarat Wongsookchan, 14, Pipat Bodhi, 15, Peerapat Sompiangjai, 16, Pornchai Kamluang, 16, Prajak Sutham, 14, Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, 11, Mongkol Boonpiam, 14, Nattawut 'Tle' Takamsai, 14 and Duangpetch Promthep, 13
Saved! All 12 players, pictured from top left clockwise, Adul Sam-on, 14, Panumas Saengdee, 13, Sompong Jaiwong, 13, Ekkarat Wongsookchan, 14, Pipat Bodhi, 15, Peerapat Sompiangjai, 16, Pornchai Kamluang, 16, Prajak Sutham, 14, Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, 11, Mongkol Boonpiam, 14, Nattawut 'Tle' Takamsai, 14 and Duangpetch Promthep, 13

'The screams started coming because the main pumps failed and the water started rising,' one of the divers told The Guardian.

The diver and two Australian colleagues had been in the process of clearing out after the successful rescue operation on Tuesday when they suddenly saw 'a rush of head torches' as rescue workers ran for their lives.

Thankfully, they told the newspaper, the remaining 100 members of the rescue team were able to exit safely within an hour, along with the Thai Navy SEALs and the army doctor who had been keeping the Wild Boar FC players company in the cave.

The Navy SEALs had stayed with the group since they were discovered huddled together on a muddy ledge 2,620ft (800 metres) underground on July 2.

The 12 football players, aged 11 to 16, and their coach had become trapped during a visit on June 23 when monsoon floods blocked the cave exit and forced them back three miles into the mountain.

A group of Thai Navy divers are seen in the Tham Luang cave during rescue operations in Chiang Rai, Thailand
A group of Thai Navy divers are seen in the Tham Luang cave during rescue operations in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Failure: The giant water pump, which had been keeping the water levels down during the rescue, that failed at the end of the operation
Failure: The giant water pump, which had been keeping the water levels down during the rescue, that failed at the end of the operation
We're coming out: Soldiers take out machines after the 12 football players and their coach were rescued in Tham Luang cave complex on Tuesday evening
We're coming out: Soldiers take out machines after the 12 football players and their coach were rescued in Tham Luang cave complex on Tuesday evening
We did it! The four Navy SEALs - three divers and one army medic - are seen giving the thumbs up after they emerged safely from the cave on Tuesday
We did it! The four Navy SEALs - three divers and one army medic - are seen giving the thumbs up after they emerged safely from the cave on Tuesday

They ended up stranded on a ledge, starving in the darkness, until they were found by a team of British divers over a week later.

The rescue operation which began on Sunday came into fruition after several days of frantic planning and preparation.

Authorities had been mulling ideas such as drilling holes into the mountain or waiting months until monsoon rains ended and they could walk out, with the rescue chief at one point dubbing the efforts to save them 'Mission Impossible'.

In the end, a team of specialist divers, led by British experts and Thai Navy SEALs, entered the cave and 'effectively pulled' the boys through several miles of water-filled tunnels one by one - despite many of them not knowing how to swim.

Advertisement

The head of the Thai Navy SEALs said that 'hope had become reality' as the children started coming out of the cave one by one. 

'We had a little bit of hope that they might still be alive but we had to do it, we just had to move forward,' Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yuukongkaew told the BBC.

'There was only a tiny bit of hope, but that's all we had to work with.'

Four children were rescued on Sunday, another four on Monday, before the operation was completed yesterday. 

They are now all recovering in hospital, with some of them suffering a minor pneumonia and hypothermia, but are overall in good health, officials said today.  

Hooyah! Onlookers at the junction in front of Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital watch and cheer as ambulances transport the last rescued schoolboys and their coach from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital
Hooyah! Onlookers at the junction in front of Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital watch and cheer as ambulances transport the last rescued schoolboys and their coach from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital
Street party: Locals celebrate after the announcement that the evacuation is complete on Tuesday evening
Street party: Locals celebrate after the announcement that the evacuation is complete on Tuesday evening

Boy who wore England shirt in the cave will be desperately hoping they win tonight, says grandfather

The Thai cave boy who loves England will be desperately hoping they win their World Cup game against Croatia tonight, his grandfather says.

Sompong Jaiwong, 13, was seen wearing an England football shirt throughout his ordeal and will be willing them to reach the World Cup Final, 87-year-old Patawa Lungpun said. 

The young footballer, who is known as 'Pong', was backing England in the group stages but was trapped half a mile underground after just the first game. 

Supporter: Sompong 'Pong' Jaiwong, 13, is seen wearing an England football shirt when the group were found after a week missing in the cave 
Supporter: Sompong 'Pong' Jaiwong, 13, is seen wearing an England football shirt when the group were found after a week missing in the cave 
Patawa Lungpun, 87, said Sompong has always supported England and loves Harry Kane, though he doesn't know where his love of the Three Lions started
Patawa Lungpun, 87, said Sompong has always supported England and loves Harry Kane, though he doesn't know where his love of the Three Lions started

Yesterday Patawa Lungpun, 87, gave a huge toothy grin and cheered the successful mission that brought all 12 boys and their coach home.

Mr Lungpun said Sompong's grandmother had gone to visit him in hospital and was 'very excited'.

He said of his grandson: 'We don't know why he supports England but he always has. He will want them to win tonight.'

It is unclear if Sompong knows England are in the semi final because he got trapped after only the first group game against Tunisia
It is unclear if Sompong knows England are in the semi final because he got trapped after only the first group game against Tunisia

However, Sompong may have to miss the crucial match because the children are all in quarantine in hospital and are not being allowed to watch television in case it is too exciting while they are supposed to be resting and recovering.

Speaking earlier from the family's ramshackle rented house in an impoverished district by a river a few miles from the cave, the boy's grandmother Pakkam Kamtaew, 71, said she was devoted to him.

Sompong is her only grandchild, and both of his parents are dead.

'If England were in the final, I think he would be very very happy,' he said.

'He loves the England team. He knows all the players but I don't know their names. I don't know why he likes England so much, but he just always has. 

'He always wants an England shirt if we go clothes shopping.'

Holding the only photograph she possesses of him, during his Grade 6 graduation ceremony earlier this year, she wept: 'We miss him so very much. 

Pakkam Kamtaew, 71, Sompong's grandmother, revealed that his mother and father both died in separate accidents, so she and husband Patawa raised him
Pakkam Kamtaew, 71, Sompong's grandmother, revealed that his mother and father both died in separate accidents, so she and husband Patawa raised him

'I have just one photo of him, and it is on my wall. I look at it all the time - but sometimes I can't stop crying. I say to him, "I'm waiting for you. Please come home".

'I will hug him and say we have missed you so much, but please be a good boy in future.

'He can have any meal he wants when he comes home and I will cook it.

'Sompong has suffered so much heartbreak in his life, after his father and mother split up when he was a few months old and then he was orphaned by them dying in separate tragedies.'

The boy's uncle, Chai, 41, who sells wristwatches in a plaza for a living, helped raise him.

Chai said the pair of them had watched World Cup matches together before Sompong got trapped, adding: 'He'd love England to win. His favourite player is Messi but he loves English football and Harry Kane.'

Advertisement

The 12 boys and coach 'took care of themselves well in the cave,' Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, said at a news conference at the hospital in Chiang Rai city where the group is recovering.

The four boys rescued Sunday can eat normal food and walk around, and the four pulled out Monday were eating soft food, with an average weight loss of 2kg (4.4lbs).

Thongchai said one member of the final group of four boys and the coach who arrived at the hospital Tuesday evening had a slight lung infection.

Two of the first group had a lung infection as well, and Thongchai said they would need medicine for seven days. 

The boys remain in isolation in the hospital to prevent infections by outsiders, but family members have seen at least some of the boys from behind a glass barrier. 

Today, there have been further claims that some of the boys were drugged during the rescue operation.

At least four of them were drugged by a Thai Army doctor, to increase their chances of getting out alive, a Spanish diver who took part in the evacuation has claimed.

Fernando Raigal, who has 12 years of experience of commercial diving, claimed the rescuers had no other option.

He told the BBC: 'The boys were sedated. They were unconscious [during the evacuation]. They were breathing but they were drugged.

'There was a lot of risk to put someone through that operation.'

 This has been strongly denied by Thai authorities, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-chau, who refuted sedation claims and added that had been given anti-anxiety medication, 'the same he takes to help him relax when he shoots guns'.

Time to go: Phuket-based diver, Tim Acton, leaves Chiang Rai Mae Fah Luang Airport after helping in the rescue of the Thai children 
Time to go: Phuket-based diver, Tim Acton, leaves Chiang Rai Mae Fah Luang Airport after helping in the rescue of the Thai children 
Royal support: A Thai Royal Staff member arrives at Chiang Rai Mae Fah Luang Airport with 13 boxes and bags from the King of Thailand as gifts for the rescued children
Royal support: A Thai Royal Staff member arrives at Chiang Rai Mae Fah Luang Airport with 13 boxes and bags from the King of Thailand as gifts for the rescued children
Rescued: A helicopter takes one of the boys rescued on Tuesday from the Tham Luang Cave near Mae Sai to hospital. Strapped to the stretcher, his head is held in a protective neck-brace and he is wearing sun-glasses shielding his eyes from the light 
Rescued: A helicopter takes one of the boys rescued on Tuesday from the Tham Luang Cave near Mae Sai to hospital. Strapped to the stretcher, his head is held in a protective neck-brace and he is wearing sun-glasses shielding his eyes from the light 

Despite not being able to meet them, parents, siblings, grandparents and other relatives have flocked to the Pranukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai to catch a glimpse of the children.

The boys' parents kept a vigil at the jungle entrance of the Tham Luang cave praying that their darling would come out in one piece.

One of the families are preparing a birthday party for Peerapat Sompiangjai aka 'Nite' who turned 16 on the first day of the disaster.

'I may not be smiling on the outside but my heart is full of joy that we got our boy back alive,' his grandfather Sriwat Sompiangjal, 72, told MailOnline.

'The day the boys went missing was Nite's birthday. We were going to celebrate with him when he came back from the cave.

'We had prepared a nice meal and we had bought a birthday cake. But he never came home. 

'Finally we will be able to celebrate his 16th birthday.' 

As the children recover in hospital, plans of how to capitalise on their tale have already been put in motion.

Thai authorities are looking to clean up the caves, located in a scenic mountainous part of Chiang Rai, and turn it into a tourist attraction.

'In this crisis situation, today, I don't want to talk about work, but I think the Thai people, we are lucky that we are going to have a world-class tourist attraction,' Thailand's deputy head of national parks Chongklai Woraponsathron told a news conference yesterday. 

Message of support:  The video promised that the 12 boys would be welcomed with 'a party for you all' and that they would be back with others playing for Wild Boar FC for football practice soon
Message of support:  The video promised that the 12 boys would be welcomed with 'a party for you all' and that they would be back with others playing for Wild Boar FC for football practice soon
One team, one dream: Some of the players pose with coach Ekaphol Chantawong, 25, after a football game
One team, one dream: Some of the players pose with coach Ekaphol Chantawong, 25, after a football game

Meanwhile, the story of the Wild Boar FC players and their coach getting trapped and rescued from the cave could be headed for a retelling by Hollywood. 

U.S. production company Pure Flix, which makes 'family friendly Christian films', arrived at the scene of the rescue before the operation was even completed to conduct interviews for a potential film.

Pure Flix co-founder Michael Scott, who lives in Thailand part of the year, and said he became captivated by the story while watching the news at his home in Bangkok. His wife grew up with the former Thai navy SEAL who died during the mission, he added.

Scott said he believes the international cooperation at the scene will help stoke interest in a movie about the effort.

'It's Thai, Westerners, Europeans, Aussies - people from all over the world who helped bring these kids to safety,' he said. 'I think there is a world wide appeal which I think will inspire millions across the globe.'

THE FREE WILD BOAR FC: WHO ARE THE 12 SCHOOL BOYS AND THEIR COACH RESCUED FROM CAVE

Eleven of the 12 boys who ended up trapped in a cave in Chiang Rai are all players in the same football team - except one teen who had his trial game on the day they went missing. 

Many of the boys, aged 11 to 16, have dreams of playing in Thailand's national football league, while some are also - according to their families - dedicated students.

Now that they have been rescued, they can hopefully look forward to visiting Manchester United's grounds and watch a Premiere League game once they have recovered.

THE BOYS 

Adul Sam-on, 14

Born state-less in Myanmar, and raised by Christian teachers in Thailand, Adul Sam-on's unflinching politeness and startling ability to speak English is capturing hearts.  

Adul - who also speaks Thai, Burmese, and Chinese - is being praised for his English skills in a country where less than a third of the population speaks the language.

He was the only one able to communicate with the British divers that discovered the boys on July 2.

'What day is it?' he shouted, telling the divers they were hungry, in footage broadcast around the world after the agonising search for the boys.

Communicator: A thin Adul Sam-on is seen in footage broadcast around the world after the group were found by British divers
Communicator: A thin Adul Sam-on is seen in footage broadcast around the world after the group were found by British divers

Born in Myanmar's self-governing Wa State, he left his family behind aged seven to get a better education in northern Thailand, but his parents still visit him at the Christian Church where he's been taken in.   

With no birth certificate, no ID card and no passport, Adul cannot legally marry, get a job or bank account, travel, own property or vote, but he refuses to let his status hold him back.

The passionate footballer also loves to play the piano and guitar, and is an accomplished student too. 

Duangpetch Promthep, 13

Duangpetch, also known as Dom, is the team captain of Wild Boar FC and his family told local news he is the motivator of the group. 

His teammates told The Guardian that 'he has the qualities of a leader and a good sense of humour' and is such a talented footballer he has been asked to try out for the top local teams.

Ekkarat is also known as 'Bew' and is one of Wild Boar FC's two goalkeepers
Ekkarat is also known as 'Bew' and is one of Wild Boar FC's two goalkeepers
Trial: Pipat Bodhi, 15, was looking at joining the team to spend time with Ekkarat
Trial: Pipat Bodhi, 15, was looking at joining the team to spend time with Ekkarat

Mongkol Boonpiam, 14

Mongkol's father Thinnakorn said his son is a 'good boy' who loves to study - almost as much as he loves playing football.

He joined the Wild Boar FC team a year ago and on June 23, he had gone to Saturday practice like he has done many times before, and his family were long unaware of the trek to the cave.  

Ekkarat Wongsookchan, 14

Ekkarat is also known as 'Bew' and is one of Wild Boar FC's two goalkeepers.

Pipat Bodhi, 15

Pipat is reportedly not a player for Wild Boar FC, but had joined the team for practice session before they embarked on their trek to the caves.  

He was hoping to be able to join the team so he could spend more time with goalkeeper Ekkarat, who is his best friend. 

Prajak Sutham, 14

Prajak shares the role of goalkeeper with Ekkarat, and is called Note by friends and family.

A quiet but sport-loving boy, Note's medals are on display in the courtyard of the family's modest home in a village outside Mae Sai.

He loved playing for the Wild Boar football team and wants to play for the provincial team when he is older.

Pictures of Note graduating from Kindergarten and primary school are displayed in pride of place in the family home, and his parents have kept a 24-hour vigil at the entrance of the Thamg Luang cave. 

Student: Prajak is seen aged 11,  graduating from primary school
Student: Prajak is seen aged 11,  graduating from primary school

Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, 11

Chanin is also known as Titan, and is the youngest player on the team. He has been playing football for the past four years, according to the BBC. 

Despite being the youngest, he was reportedly one of those who remained in the cave the longest, being the 11th child brought out 

Pornchai Kamluang, 16

Pornchai's mother Kian Kamluang said she had thought there was a 50 per cent chance that her son would be found.

'It's like he has been given a new life,' she said, adding that she'll never let her son go into a cave or near water again.

Peerapat Sompiangjai, 16

He is a right-wing midfielder, and known as Night, according to The Guardian.

Nattawut Takamsai, 14

The 14-year-old goes under the nickname Tle.

Panumas Saengdee, 13

Known as Mick, defender Panumas was raised by his mother and grandfather, who has been left grief-stricken and refusing to eat since the team got lost in the caves. 

Speaking to The Guardian, his coaches praised his skills for his age and called him 'an ideal defender because of his fitness and fluid movement'. 

nattawut
nattawut
Panumas
Panumas

Sompong Jaiwong, 13  

Midfielder Sompong, known as Pong, supports England and dreams of becoming a footballer and representing his nation, according to his former teacher.

'Pong is a cheerful boy, he likes football, and every sport. He dreams of becoming a footballer for the Thai national team,' the teenager's teacher Manutsanun Kuntun told AFP, using his nickname.

'Our class is still confident he will be OK,' she said.

Pong's family said he supports Liverpool, 'would love England to win' the World Cup in Russia and loves Three Lions captain Harry Kane.  

THE COACH

Ekkapol Chantawong, 25

Ekkapol was just 12, when he lost his seven-year-old brother, mother and father as an illness spread though his home.

His aunt said he was a 'sad and lonely' boy until he was sent a to Buddhist monastery where he gained mental strength.

When the group became trapped in the cave, he reportedly began teaching the children to meditate to help keep them calm during their ordeal.

His aunt said he was a 'sad and lonely' boy until he was sent a Buddhist monastery where he gained mental strength. Pictured: The coach with his players
His aunt said he was a 'sad and lonely' boy until he was sent a Buddhist monastery where he gained mental strength. Pictured: The coach with his players
Former monk Ekkapol Chantawong, 25, ended up trapped in the cave with his 12 young players
Former monk Ekkapol Chantawong, 25, ended up trapped in the cave with his 12 young players
The coach had reportedly been teaching the boys to meditate to help keep them calm in the cave
The coach had reportedly been teaching the boys to meditate to help keep them calm in the cave

 

Next Stories1/30

Advertisement

MOST READ NEWS1/18

Don't Miss

Advertisement
Advertisement