Divers involved in the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave have revealed extraordinary details of the dangerous operation.
A team of more than 150 worked together to free the group from Tham Luang cave, a 6-mile limestone cave system, in an operation that scared even the most seasoned professionals.
New details of the rescue were revealed Monday night on Four Corners, an Australian television series, including how it was decided which of the 12 boys were rescued first.
â€œItâ€™s one of the most difficult and dangerous and risky things Iâ€™ve ever done, not in terms of my own personal safety, but in terms of the people I was responsible for,â€ British cave diver Jason Mallinson told the reporter.
â€œIâ€™ve never done anything as risky as that and I donâ€™t think I ever will again. But it was the only option we had, and we took it.â€
Mallinson was a â€œrecover diverâ€ tasked with getting the children through some of the most dangerous flooded passageways, in water that was so murky there was sometimes no visibility.
â€œThe probability of success was about as low as you can get,â€ U.S. Mission Commander Major Charles Hodges said.
â€œI was fully expecting that we would accept casualties. Maybe three, four, possibly five would die,â€ he added.
For the dangerous three-hour long journey, each of the children was sedated to stop them from panicking. The rescue was so dangerous the Australian Government negotiated immunity from Thai authorities for any Australians involved in the sedation of the children in case anything went wrong.
Expert cave divers Craig Challen and Richard â€œHarryâ€ Harris have been hailed as Australian heroes for their pivotal roles in rescuing the Thai football team.
Harris in particular was described as a â€œlinchpinâ€ in the operation, helping to assess the children at different stages of the journey.
The journey was broken up into nine sections and expert British divers were responsible for bringing them through the most complicated spots, using guide lines to help them navigate the passageways.
â€œWeâ€™d submerge with the kid. And depending how the line laid, weâ€™d either have them on the right-hand side or the left-hand side, either holding their back or holding their chest,â€ Mallinson said.
He describes the process as â€œmentally exhausting,â€ especially on the last day, when there was no visibility.
â€œI had to have the lad really close to me because if you didnâ€™t, you were bashing his head against the rocks,â€ he said.
â€œIf we bashed him against a rock too hard and it dislodged that mask and flooded his mask, he was a goner. So thatâ€™s why we had to be very slow and careful about not banging them against rocks.â€
Instead, Mallinson said he extended his head above the boyâ€™s so that his head hit the rocks instead.
â€œThe visibility was that bad, you couldnâ€™t see the rock until you actually hit it,â€ he said.
Earlier divers had rehearsed the rescue in a local pool, practicing the maneuvers with volunteer children and assessing whether the risky operation was feasible.
â€œI was confident of getting myself out, I was confident of not losing control of the line, I was confident of getting the kid out [but] I wasnâ€™t a 100 percent confident of getting him out alive,â€ Mallinson said.
At some points the children had their scuba gear taken off and were taken in stretchers across some areas. In other areas they were carried in harnesses across very steep caverns as walking across these muddy areas would have been dangerous.
Two divers were assigned to each child so that at least one was always holding on to the child.
Harris assessed the children at different stages of the operation to ensure they were OK to continue.
â€œWithout him, we wouldnâ€™t have been able to do what we did,â€ Mallinson said. â€œHis bedside manner when he was there with the kids and that, talking to them, calming them down and stuff like that.
â€œSo yeah, he was the, the linchpin of the operation.â€
While itâ€™s been reported that Dr. Harris also decided which children came out first, fellow Aussie diver Callen said this wasnâ€™t true. He said it was the decision of the boys, coach and Thai Navy SEALs who were with them. The group was told about the operation and they decided who came out first.
â€œHarry did not choose them, as it has been suggested. So, I think it was their bravest guys that came out first.â€
18 Jul 2018