With the world celebrating the rescue of the 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped underground for 17 days, it’s emerged just how close the rescue operation came to running out of time.
Reports from the scene reveal that soon after the boys were removed the pumps that had been shifting water from the cave failed and rescue workers were forced to quickly exit as the water levels rose.
“There was actually a chain of yelling and screaming,” one Australian Federal Police diver told The Australian newspaper.
“Where I was, right down the bottom you could hear all the cheers.”
But within minutes the diver said he saw headlights racing out of the cave as the pumps failed.
“Everyone is around cleaning up. Where we were all these headlights started coming over the hill. There were 100 guys running down the hill,” he told the newspaper.
“The pumps failed and the water in the sumps [submerged cave passages] had started rising.”
What condition are the boys in?
As weary rescue workers celebrated their achievement, and the world applauded, the boys and their coach were recovering in hospital.
Doctors say they lost an average of two kilograms during their ordeal but are generally in good condition and showing no signs of stress.
“From our assessment, they are in good condition and not stressed. Most of the boys lost an average of two kilograms,” Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, an inspector for Thailand’s health department, told reporters on Wednesday.
Most are expected to be in hospital for some time, as doctors monitor their physical and mental health.
The boys – who ranged in age from 11 to 16 – emerged in relatively good condition, but doctors insist they will keep a close watch on their recovery.
The first eight boys rescued were admitted to hospital with low body temperatures and were provided with heaters, Thai doctors said Tuesday.
One had a low heart rate, and one had a scratch on his right ankle. It’s suspected two had lung infections – probably pneumonia – based on irregular X-rays.
Overall they were feeling better, with no fever, and were moving around on their own and smiling.
But doctors said the boys were being kept quarantined. Parents were allowed to see them through a glass isolation barrier and talk to them via hospital phones.
It could be at least seven days before they can be released from hospital, Doctor Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said.
Why are the boys quarantined?
The boys were malnourished and weak, and doctors are probably worried that they could be susceptible to germs spread by family members or other visitors, Dr W Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University infectious diseases expert said.
But it’s also possible they are infection risks to others.
Thai doctors have said they don’t know what type of unusual illnesses the boys may have picked up in the cave.
“We have never experienced this kind of issue from a deep cave,” and doctors are running a battery of tests on the boys, Dr Jedsada said.
Bats live in caves. They can spread viruses ranging from rabies to Nipah, which can cause pneumonia, seizures and death.
The boys told doctors they did not see any bats or other animals, and experts say it’s unlikely bats would dwell as deep in a cave as the boys were found.
Dr Lipkin said more likely risks are tetanus bacteria that could infect a wound, diarrhea-causing bacteria that could have contaminated the cave waters, and inhalable fungal spores that could cause breathing problems – including pneumonia.
What lies ahead for the boys?
Dr Lipkin said the most likely problems will stem from “the stress associated with this harrowing experience.”
One of the Thai doctors said the boys were happy, but that psychologists would be evaluating them.
The guided escape was stressful, and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the boys were given an anti-anxiety medication to help calm their nerves.
People who endure such an intense and dangerous event can go on to suffer lasting anxiety, depression and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Thailand’s Department of Mental Health said hospitals are working with the families to help the boys mentally recover, including by not digging for details about what they endured.
Reaction in Thailand and around the world
The rescue dominated front page headlines in Thailand.
“All Wild Boars Saved,” read one headline.
“Hooyah! Mission accomplished,” read another, echoing the rallying cry of the Thai navy SEALs involved in the rescue.
The hashtag #Hooyah was also hugely popular with Thai netizens wanting to show their support for the hundreds of rescuers, including divers from around the world, who helped to get the boys out.
Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn thanked people in Thailand and around the world at a news conference on Tuesday for their well wishes and support.
“This mission was successful because we had power. The power of love. Everybody sent it to the 13,” Narongsak told reporters.
The drama in Thailand has even resonated as far as Russia, where the World Cup is reaching its final stages. Players from France and England welcomed news of the rescue and sent their best wishes to the “Wild Boars” on Twitter.
“This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong,” French midfielder Paul Pogba tweeted after his team beat Belgium 1-0 overnight to reach the final.
A Google search on Tuesday for the words “Thai cave rescue” revealed 359 million results, with interest peaking since last week when British divers found the boys and the rescue mission began.