US Rescue Troops Helped Prep Way Out for Thai Boys to Escape Cave

Thai rescue teams arrange a water pumping system at the entrance to a flooded cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped in northern Thailand. (Royal Thai Navy photo)
Thai rescue teams arrange a water pumping system at the entrance to a flooded cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped in northern Thailand. (Royal Thai Navy photo)

U.S. military personnel assisted the Thai-led international effort in preparing the way out for the 12 Moo Pa (Wild Boars) youth soccer players and their coach from the labyrinthine cave complex where they had been marooned since June 23.

Working inside the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand, U.S. personnel staged equipment along the 2.4-mile escape route and helped prepare three cave chambers for safe passage, Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday.

U.S. personnel also assisted Thai Navy SEAL divers in escorting the boys, aged 11 to 16, to safety through the final passages of the cave system and provided medical and technical assistance, he said.

The U.S. team of 42 personnel from the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group Thailand included members of the 353rd Special Operations Group, Manning said.

"Coordination and interaction with Thai military, Thai government, and other multinational civilians and government entities remains extremely positive and effective," he added.

The Thai SEALs said in Facebook posts Tuesday that the last four boys and their 25-year-old coach had been brought out of the cave, following the safe evacuation of four of the boys Sunday and another four Monday.

The Thai SEALs said the last stage of the rescue effort will involve bringing out three divers and a medic who had remained with the boys on a ledge where they were marooned by flood waters.

The boys and their coach had gone on an outing to the cave complex after soccer practice June 23.

"Today [Tuesday], the boar's pack will be reunited again," the Thai SEALs said.

Speaking earlier, acting Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is also head of the joint command center, said, "If everything goes right, we will see four kids, and a doctor and three SEALs that have stayed with the kids will all come out."

Narongsak said a total of 18 divers and a support team of 100 worked inside the cave for the difficult rescue operation in which the boys were tethered to divers for an underwater passage of about a half-mile.

The only casualty thus far in the rescue operation was that of 38-year-old Saman Kunan, a former Thai SEAL and volunteer diver, who died from a lack of oxygen around 1 a.m. local time Friday morning.

"His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back," Chiang Rai Deputy Gov. Passakorn Boonyaluck said at a news conference.

At the Pentagon, Manning said, "The death of the former Thai Navy SEAL illustrates the difficulty of this rescue. His sacrifice will not be forgotten."

On Tuesday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump sent out a tweet: "On behalf of the United States, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the successful rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the treacherous cave in Thailand. Such a beautiful moment -- all freed, great job!"

The boys reportedly are in good condition in a Thai hospital but are temporarily being kept apart from their parents while being monitored for infection.

Reuters reported that soccer's governing body, Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, has invited the boys to the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday if they are well enough.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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