The 12 Thai boys rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand will be discharged from hospital “as soon as possible”, the country’s health department has announced.
After divers successfully brought the Wild Boars soccer players and their coach to the surface of the Tham Luang cave on Tuesday to the world’s relief and joy, the survivors are set to return to their families.
Thailand’s Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said the boys and their coach were recovering both physically and mentally and would be discharged from Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital on Thursday, July 19.
Mr Piyasakol confirmed none of the boys or their 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, had infectious diseases, but were still susceptible to disease and pathogens while in the recovery phase.
“To ensure that the patients recover from any possible mental disorders, the medical team and the psychiatrist recommend that they spend time with family and friends during the healing phase following the traumatic event for at least one month,” Mr Piyasakol said.
“We need to prepare both the children and their families for the attention they will receive when they come out.”
Mr Piyasakol has also advised the boys and their families to avoid all media exposure for at least one month “because doing so may trigger post traumatic stress disorder symptoms”.
Thai health authorities have released photographs of the boys in an isolation ward wearing gauze masks appearing in good spirits waving at the camera and sketching drawings in their hospital beds.
The Thai boys have also recorded short video messages, giving their names, nicknames, and sharing what foods they want to eat once released from hospital.
In a fitting request, most of the ‘Wild Boars’ players said they were looking forward to a pork dish.
Adelaide diver reflects on Thai cave rescue mission
The imminent release of the boys comes as Australian expert cave diver Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris shares his reflections on the enormity of what he and his colleagues achieved in the Thai cave rescue mission.
From his seat on a RAAF C-17A back to Australia, the Adelaide anaesthetist and diver took to Facebook to debrief in what was always seen as the most unwinnable and “hopeless” rescue mission ever undertaken.
“I feel like it is the first opportunity to really stop and reflect on the extraordinary events of the past 8 days since Craig [Challen] and I were deployed as a small AUSMAT team to the rescue in Northern Thailand,” Dr Harris wrote in the long Facebook post.
Dr Harris, credited with playing the heroic role in the Thai cave rescue, described the “immense” pressure” on expert divers saying he had “never seen anything like” the international rescue mission.
He and dive “buddy” Craig Challen, from Perth, known together as the Wet Mules – a name inspired by the expression “enough money to burn a wet mule” – were key to extracting the 12 young soccer players and their coach from the flooded 4.7-kilometre Tham Luang cave system.
The Australian Federal Police divers swam through a cave labyrinth to reach the boys on each of the three rescue mission days and did not leave the cave until the boys had been evacuated to safety.
Dr Harris and Mr Challen, who usually perform black-water search operations, approached the boy’s cave in perilous conditions, alternating between walking laden with diving gear to diving for short 10-20 metre bursts.
Since the mission’s success, close to 40,000 Australians have signed a petition for the two divers to be awarded the Cross of Valour to recognise their “acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril”.
But Dr Harris told a story of a collective effort in the Facebook post, making sure to name every diver in the Thai cave rescue mission, as well as countless others.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Saturday also recognised Saman Kunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who tragically died in the cave rescue mission earlier this month.
The King made a decree to promote Saman to lieutenant commander while honouring him with the royal decoration of Knight Grant Cross (first class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.
“The Thais and international community sent in swarms of men and women to provide everything from catering, communications, media and of course the huge teams of workers filling the cave with tonnes and tonnes of equipment to try and lower the water and sustain the diving operations,” Dr Harris wrote.
“I have never seen anything like it with man battling to control the natural forces of the monsoon waters.”
Dr Harris ensured to name every local and international diver involved in the Thai cave rescue mission from British divers John Volanthen, Rick Stanton, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell to less known Euro divers “Erik, Ivan, and our good mate Claus and Nikko”.
“The pressure that was put on these guys was immense and they never dropped the ball for a second,” the expert diver wrote.
The Adelaide-based diver said he wrote the Facebook post to try to give credit to others, seemingly to deflect media attention and his quick rise to becoming a household name.
“Craig and I have had a spotlight on our efforts and we want to make everyone realise that while we might have become the face of this rescue for some reason, everyone should know that the role we played was no more or less important that all the many hundreds of people I have mentioned,” Dr Harris wrote.