Thai cave rescue: Boys, coach start road to recovery after dramatic ordeal

Last Updated Jul 11, 2018 1:24 AM EDT

CHIANG RAI, Thailand -- The last of the 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand were rescued on Tuesday. It couldn't have happened without a team of skilled divers who risked their lives to save the boys.

Almost all of the rescued were flown in helicopters, then driven in ambulances to a Chiang Rai hospital.

Officials there reported the first four rescued can now stand up and walk, but they can't go far. They're under quarantine because of risk of infection.

At a news conference Wednesday, the director of the hospital said the parents of the four players who were first to be brought out have visited the boys, and the parents of the four rescued Monday were expected to see their sons Wednesday.

According to The Associated Press, a Thai health official said Wednesday all 12 lost weight while trapped but had water and are in good health.  Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, said the 12 boys and their coach coach "took care of themselves well in the cave."

The nearly three week ordeal began when the boys set out to explore the cave as a team bonding experience. But it's monsoon season, and rainwater soon started filling the cave, forcing them deeper inside before they found dry ground. That's where British divers found them days later, alive and in relatively good health.

Preparations for a rescue took days, and involved pumping out millions of gallons of water, drilling through hard rock and mapping the tunnels. The group would have to swim through dark, narrow passageways, wearing scuba gear. Each boy was guided by two divers, one in front, one in back.

Officials said the boys, many of whom had never learned to swim, were given anti-anxiety medication to keep them calm. In all, dozens of divers and some 100 support personnel carried out the rescues in three waves over three days.

"When I saw the diver and the kid on the horizon, I still didn't know if it was a casualty or if it was a kid so I was very scared," said Ivan Karadzic, one of the rescuers inside the cave. "It didn't feel good. But when I saw that he was alive and breathing and seemed to be alright, it felt very good."

When it was all over, everyone simply wanted to see the boys.

"I want to hug them first," said another one of the boys' coaches. "I want to cheer them on, I want to tell them how worried I've been."