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Thai Cave Mission: All 12 Boys And Their Coach Are Rescued


With some great news from northern Thailand this morning, all 12 members of a boys soccer team and their coach have been rescued from a flooded cave. The team had been trapped underground near the Thai border with Myanmar for over two weeks. Three members of the rescue team and a doctor are still inside for the moment. Michael Sullivan is with us now from near the cave complex.

Hi, Michael.


KING: Now that this ordeal has finished, remind us how this whole thing started. How did these boys get trapped?

SULLIVAN: So they went in after soccer practice back on June 23, a little more than two weeks ago. And there was a sudden rainstorm, a heavy rainstorm because the monsoon has already started here, and their exit got cut off by rising water. And it looks as if they just kept moving higher as the water got higher until they found themselves on that tiny ledge high up in the cave complex where they waited until just over a week ago when a team of British divers found them. And you remember that tape, right? How many of you are there, the diver asks? And they say, 13. And he says, brilliant. Because he knows that's how many were missing, and that meant they were all alive.

KING: It was a remarkable moment and a remarkable rescue. I mean, these kids were trapped 2.5 miles from the cave entrance. They didn't know how to dive. Some of them didn't even know how to swim. How did rescuers pull this off?

SULLIVAN: Well, the kids pulled it off by being tough. Yeah. And by listening to these rescue divers who gave them instructions on how to use a diving mask and air because there were parts of this cave that were completely submerged. So they had to learn to do all of this and not to freak as they made their way down guided by this team of 13 foreign specialist divers and five Thai Navy SEALs, one in front, one in back of each kid. And I remember in the beginning how a lot of people were saying there's no way this is going to work. And they were wrong. And it's amazing and a very happy ending, though one tempered by the fact that one rescue diver was killed on Friday, remember, as he was laying some of these air tanks along the route the boys were to travel to enable them to have enough air to get out safely. So that's one sad note.

KING: The boys have been sent to the hospital after being rescued. What do we know about how they're doing?

SULLIVAN: We don't know anything at this point about how the boys rescued today are doing other than that they're safe, according to the Thai Navy SEAL website, which announced the rescue in a really sweet way. Their post read, we aren't sure if this is a miracle, science or what, but all 13 Wild Boars - as the team is called - are now out of the cave. The other eight, rescued earlier on Sunday and Monday, are doing well in a hospital in Chiang Rai, where these boys and the SEALs who were with them will go for observation, too. The boys there already are in high spirits, according to a senior health official there. And they're eating. In fact, they want to eat more. They want spicy food, not the bland hospital food they're getting, right? But it's a little early for that. They're all pretty healthy. Two of them might have a slight lung infection, but there's talk they could all be allowed to go home in a week, which is amazing seeing as how they were in the cave for more than two weeks.

KING: And what has been the reaction there in Chiang Rai?

SULLIVAN: Joy, relief, happiness. About what you'd expect, really. Especially here in Mae Sai, where the boys go to school and where their friends are already promising to take them out for a good meal...

KING: (Laughter).

SULLIVAN: ...Once they get home.

KING: Michael Sullivan in Thailand joined us via Skype.

Michael, thank you so much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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