Thai cave rescue: See some of the challenges divers faced

In a three-day operation, divers have rescued all 12 boys and their soccer coach from a treacherous Thai cave complex. But the process wasn't easy, given the extreme danger for the divers and the constant risk that heavy rain could make things even harder.

Cast of hundreds including divers, medics, engineers and support staff helped rescue the trapped team

Thai rescue personnel carry oxygen tanks inside Tham Luang cave to conduct operations to find the team in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province. (Krit Phromsakla Na Sakolnakorn`/ THAI NEWS PIX / AFP)

In a three-day operation, divers have rescued all 12 boys and their soccer coach from a treacherous Thai cave complex. But the process wasn't easy, given the extreme danger for the divers and the constant risk that heavy rain could make things even harder.

The Thai army had more than 1,000 personnel helping in the rescue, the head of the operation said on Tuesday. The remaining medic and navy SEAL divers had also left the cave safely, said Narongsak Osottanakorn.

Thai officials — who were working alongside international experts — said minimizing the risk was key.

See a video posted by the Thai SEAL team after the final rescue which illustrates the tough conditions

B.C. diver Erik Brown was part of a support team of 13 assisting a rescue dive crew from Britain. Speaking to CBC News on Wednesday, he said the conditions were unlike anything he had ever experienced, including "cracks 30 centimetres big that you have to squeeze through to get back there, and you really can't see your hand in front of your face."

"When they say zero visibility, they mean zero visibility — you can't see anything."

Expert divers have been essential to the operation, which was launched on July 8 after the boys and their 25-year-old coach became trapped in the kilometres-long Tham Luang cave they were exploring on June 23.

Divers Ivan Karadzic and Ben Reymenants, who assisted in the rescue, praised the effort led by Thai officials. They spoke separately to CBC News on Tuesday.

"It's been a tremendous experience to see everything come together," said Reymenants.

Four Thai Navy SEALs who had been with the team since their discovery were the last to emerge — the 12 boys and their coach are now recovering in hospital. 5:09

Karadzic said there was a great sense of co-operation among the international team of divers, engineers, climbers and medics.

For the most of the rescue operation, reports suggest that two divers were assigned to each boy — one at the front who was tethered to the boy, and one bringing up the rear.

Water flow improved as rescue continued

Karadzic participated in Sunday's team effort, which saw four of the boys removed safely before new teams took over Monday and Tuesday. He said the boys seemed as calm as could be expected considering their ordeal.

He said the water was extremely cold on Sunday, and it was impossible to swim due to heavy water flow stemming from a beginning to Thailand's rainy season. Instead, rescuers moved by using a series of ropes.

Ivan Karadzic was part of the dive team that rescued boys and soccer coach trapped in cave 7:11

"It's about 20 C water," said Karadzic, who was involved in supplying and replacing oxygen tanks.

He said it was slow to start, but that extra pumps eventually helped lower the water levels, making it easier to get in to the kids.

Karadzic said he heard from those who participated in the Monday and Tuesday rescues that conditions had improved somewhat, due to an ongoing effort to reduce the flow through water pumping.

Karadzic praised the planning and leadership behind the rescue operation and said the co-operation among the team members was essential.

"I feel very relieved today, and I feel very happy," he said. "It's time to celebrate a little bit."

Thai soldiers carry oxygen tanks as rescue operations on July 7. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)

Karadzic and Reymenants were just two of the many divers who were essential to finding, supporting and ultimately rescuing the boys.

A former Thai Navy SEAL diver, who was bringing in extra oxygen tanks, subsequently died while working on the rescue effort, replenishing oxygen tanks left along the exit route.

Reymenants said he's still puzzled by the death of Saman Gunan, as he was in good shape and still had oxygen in his cylinder.

Check out the graphics below to see the challenges of the cave rescue:

(CBC)
(CBC)

With files from Reuters

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