A NEW CHAPTER is set to begin at Chiang Rai’s Tham Luang cave, based on lessons learned from the 17-day ordeal of the stranded footballers and the massive international effort to rescue them from the flooded complex, as the joint rescue operation command wound up yesterday.
“The lessons from the Tham Luang incident, when presented and learned, will be useful to people across the world,” the chief of the operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, said yesterday.
These lessons, for example, will provide safety guidance at tourist sites and equip people with basic survival skills.
“The Tham Luang cave will be developed further as an attraction and also as a museum,” Narongsak said. “We have already compiled some rescue tools [for the museum] … We have also compiled the list of rescue divers who have made valuable contributions.”
The successful operation at Tham Luang now ranks as among the world’s great rescue stories.
The search and rescue mission, which was conducted under the command of Narongsak, started on June 24 a day after 12 boys and their assistant football coach reportedly disappeared in the cave after flash floods hit the area. Officials of the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non forest park in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district reported their disappearance after finding their bicycles at the mouth of the cave and floodwaters covered much of the cave on the evening of June 23.
Help finally poured in from all over the world, and was integrated efficiently.
People across the globe in recent weeks had been fixated on the unfolding drama at the Tham Luang cave, with its treacherous environment marked by thin air, pitch black darkness, jagged rocks, narrow choke points, submerged passages, high water levels and unpredictable rainfall. To bring the stranded footballers out of the cave, the rescue team had to help them brave a challenging journey that required trekking and diving through very narrow tunnels.
SEAL chief Rear Admiral Apakorn Yukongkaew described the operation as “extremely difficult”.
According to him, the decision to dive the boys out was chosen partly because oxygen levels in the cave had dropped.
It dropped to 15 per cent while in normal circumstance it should have been 21 per cent. Letting the oxygen level drop to 12 per cent could have threatened lives.
“That’s when we decided to gather the world’s best divers (for evacuations),” he said.
The united efforts of scores of people finally overcame all obstacles to enable the safe evacuations of all the 13 stranded survivors between Sunday and Tuesday.
The survivors are now under observation at Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital for extensive check-ups and recuperation.
Three of the boys had symptoms of pneumonia yesterday.
Their families have been allowed to see them from a distance of about two metres from behind a glass window.
They have been quarantined in order to prevent the risk of infections as the trapped boys and their coach had spent more than two weeks inside the dark and cold cave.
Doctors have assured that the football team’s members are relatively healthy.
The results of blood tests on the first four evacuees have already come out and they are good.
“These four are not carrying any infection,” the hospital said.
Narongsak, the former Chiang Rai governor who has been transferred as governor of Phayao, said the trapped boys – who have still not been allowed to check news on media – would soon recognise that millions of people had prayed for them and they would definitely want to give back to society.
He officially announced the closure of the joint rescue operation command yesterday as the stranded footballers had already been handed over to the hospital. All rescue equipment will be moved out of the cave, and the site returned to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) for rehabilitation.
DNP deputy director-general Chongklai Worapongsathorn disclosed that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry would submit the development plan at a public hearing on July 25.
“Local people in Chiang Rai can have a say,” he said.