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Improbably enough, most of the escapes went flawlessly.But on trip number 11, to save one of the last soccer teammates stuck for 18 days deep inside the cave, something went dangerously wrong. As the rescuers waited anxiously, a diver navigating the 11th teammate through the underwater maze lost hold of the guide rope.Suddenly, they saw 13 emaciated people perched in the dark.
“It was a horizontal climb against the water with every move.” The SEALs and volunteer divers painstakingly penetrated the cave, securing guidelines needed to ensure their safety.
They found footprints that hinted at the soccer team’s trail.
“I don’t know of any other rescue that put the rescuer and the rescuee in so much danger over a prolonged period of time, unless it is something along the lines of firefighters going into the World Trade Center knowing that the building is on fire and is going to collapse,”Hodges said.
Rain was forecast for June 23rd, the day the Wild Boars made their excursion to Tham Luang, but the boys had ventured into the cave before.
Even for someone as experienced in cave diving as Ruengrit, the force of the water in Tham Luang shocked him, tearing his mask off when he failed to position himself directly facing the current.
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“It was like walking into a strong waterfall and feeling the water rushing at you,” he said.
But as monsoon rains inundated the area, the porous limestone cave absorbed water like a sponge. “If you put your hand in front of you, it just disappeared,” said Kaew, the SEAL who escaped the final deluge.
“You couldn’t see anything.” Deep within the cave, the water was so cold that the Thai divers’ teeth chattered while they rested during 12-hour shifts.
They left their bikes and soccer boots and set off with flashlights, water and snacks bought to celebrate one of the boy’s birthdays.
The last of the boys would not emerge until July 10 – more than two weeks later.