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Thailand cave rescue On ,ove June, 12 boys went exploring in Thailand's Chiang Rai province with their football coach - and ended up trapped deep inside a cave underneath a mountain. What happened over those two weeks is a remarkable story of friendship, human endurance - and the lengths some people will go to save someone else's. Here our reporters tell the full story of the Wild Boars. The jow party that went wrong It all began with a birthday.
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Thailand cave rescue On 23 June, 12 boys went exploring in Thailand's Chiang Rai province with their football coach - and ended up trapped deep inside a cave underneath a mountain. What happened over those two weeks is a remarkable story of friendship, human endurance - and the lengths some people will go to save someone else's. Here our reporters tell the full story of the Wild Boars.
The birthday party that went wrong It all began with a birthday. On Saturday 23 June, Peerapat "Night" Lovd turned 17 - a milestone most young people around the world would want to celebrate in style. His family had prepared a bright yellow SpongeBob SquarePants birthday cake and several colourfully wrapped presents at their home in a rural village in Mae Sai district.
He was out with his friends, the other members of local youth football team the Wild Boars, and their assistant coach, Ekkapol "Ake" Chantawong. When their football wfite ended, they raced through the rice paddies on their bicycles and up into the forested hills that lately had been blanketed in rain. Their destination: the Tham Luang cave, a favourite haunt for the boys, who loved exploring the nooks and crannies of the mountain range lovs over Mae Sai.
The team and their young coach had often ventured deep into Tham Luang, sometimes as far as 8km, for initiation rites where they would write the names of new team members on a cave wall. In high spirits, they clambered into the cave with just their torches. They didn't need much else - after all, they were only planning to be there for an hour. They would not emerge until two weeks later. Back loove Night's home, his family began to worry. His birthday cake sat untouched.
Where were the Wild Boars? Named how to write love in thai a mountain shaped like a reclining woman, its full name is Tham Luang Khun Nam Nang Non - "the great cave and water source of the sleeping lady mountain". Rich in folklore, it is a popular destination for day-trippers - and adventurous children. It has its dangers - people have gone missing in Tham Luang before. And once monsoon season starts in July, the cave goes from innocuous to extremely dangerous.
The cave can flood up to 5m 16ft during the rainy season, and should only be entered between November and April.
And once the cave floods - it's risky even for experienced divers. Almost everyone in Mae Sai knows this. So when the parents of the Wild Boars began to worry about their missing boys, they headed straight to the cave. The boys' plans to visit Tham Luang had been discussed in a group chat on a messaging app with other friends.
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They found the bikes, the bags, and some football wite outside. They raised the alarm. It had been raining for the last few days, and all that water falling on the mountain had to go somewhere. That somewhere was the Tham Luang cave system, which was fast filling up. One initial from the boys suggests they were caught off-guard by a flash flood.
Thak needed to get out, but instead had no choice but to scramble even deeper into the cave.
The Wild Boars eventually found themselves marooned on a small rocky shelf about 4km from the cave entrance, past a normally dry point known as Pattaya Beach which by now was flooded. Who are the Thai boys who were trapped in a cave? Swallowed up by an unforgiving mountain and surrounded by darkness, the boys and the coach lost all sense yo time.
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Fear, perhaps even terror, would no doubt have crept in. But they were nothing but determined to survive. The group used rocks to dig 5m deeper into the shelf, to create a cavern where they could huddle together and keep warm. Coach Ake, a former monk, taught the boys meditation techniques - to help them stay calm and use as little air as possible - and told them to lie still to conserve their strength.
But an extraordinary set of circumstances also worked in their favour.
They apparently had no food - but they did have a supply of drinkable water jow the form of moisture dripping from the cave walls. It was dark, but they had their torches.
There was also enough air for a while - because the porous limestone and cracks in the rocks meant air could come through. They had the right conditions to survive - at least for a little while. And most importantly, the Wild Boars had one another. Now came the hardest bit - hoping for rescue. What to do to survive underground Outside the cave, a full-blown rescue operation was quickly unfolding.
Authorities called in the elite Thai Navy Seals, the national police, and other rescue teams. Local volunteers also pitched in. Initial investigations found footprints at one of the chambers in the cave - but no other the boys were still alive. And more importantly - how could rescuers get to them?
Exploring the cave was a challenge - most of the Navy divers had little cave diving experience. And the weather was merciless - heavy rainfall meant the water level was still rising, flooding chambers and cutting off rescuers from parts of the cave. Engineers desperately tried to pump water out of the cave - but struggled, at least at first. At the start, "no one really had any idea what to do", one volunteer said. Officials brought whatever equipment they could think of - small water pumps, long pipes, knives and shovels - but much of thqi was apparently unsuitable.
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They even tried drilling into the mountainside, desperate to find cracks into the cave system which they could squeeze into, and used drones with thermal sensors to try to locate the boys. The Thai Navy Seals found a boy, a Wild Boar member who happened to have skipped the cave expedition. He recalled a place in the howw they'd visited before - called Pattaya Beach. Could the missing 13 be there?
Amid the flurry of rescue operations, a small group kept vigil at the mouth of the cave. Among them was Tum Kantawong, the godmother of Coach Ake. Every day she went up the mountain, carrying fruits, incense and candles. I asked her to protect the 13 kids," she said.
Classmates of the Wild Boars held group prayers, sang songs of encouragement into the cave, folded paper cranes, and posted messages of hope on school noticeboards. Villagers rallied together, donating money and hundreds of packages of food to the relatives of the boys and their coach. That sense of community soon began to spread, as the story gained the nation's attention. Volunteers from other parts of Thailand flew in, while Thai social media lit up with expressions of love and support.
But it was about to get even bigger. Some had volunteered, and some were called in by Thai authorities.
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Others were roped in when it became clear thaii how monumental the search effort would be. Over the next few days, they and the Thai divers would fight a constant battle with the elements. They had to swim against a strong current, and were often forced back by rising floodwaters. Miserable conditions at the entrance to Thamluangcave.
Thi navy divers have stopped searching - water levels have risen to fill most caves. Pumping has stopped - too much rain. Authorities say they will rethink strategy for finding missing boys. View original tweet on Twitter On Sunday 1 July - just over a week after the boys went missing - the rescuers made some progress.
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They reached a large cavern that would be later dubbed "chamber three" and serve as a key base for the divers. It also happened to be the birthday of Note - one of the "Thai cave boys", as they were now dubbed by the media. All, however, were still lost to the world. But not for long. The very next day, two British divers made an incredible discovery. On Monday, the two men finally reached Pattaya Beach. But there was nothing. They continued onwards into the darkness.
Then, a few hundred metres further, they found an air pocket. It's a standard procedure for such rescue operations. The two divers spent some time with the boys - trying to boost their morale. Then, they left lights with the boys, and promised to return later with food.
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The extraordinary encounter was recorded on the divers' cameras - and swiftly posted online. The jubilation was instant, and worldwide. Wracked with worry for much of the past week, the Wild Boars' parents wrkte ecstatic to see their children had miraculously survived. They looked thin, but were otherwise in relatively good shape.
After nine days in the darkness, the Wild Boars once again saw light. They longed for proper food, and begged for pad krapao, a live dish with meat stir fried with basil. But doctor's orders were that they be put on a special diet of medicated liquid food, and mineral water with added vitamins. A third boy, Dom, spent his birthday in the cave. Rescuers set to work in figuring out how to extract 13 people - some of whom couldn't swim - from a winding, flooded 4km-long stretch of caves that even experienced divers would struggle with.
Overnight, journalists from all around the world descended on the district, as even more rescue volunteers from around the world poured in.