Young soccer players lost weight but 'took care of themselves' in Thai cave

The youth soccer teammates rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand lost weight during their 18-day ordeal, but had water while trapped and are in good health, a health official said Wednesday.

Three of the 12 boys had "minor pneumonia" and all are being kept behind a glass barrier in hospital to separate them from visitors, including their parents.

Boys shown in quarantine, but all in good spirits as families look on 1:12

The boys, aged 11 to 16 at the time they became trapped, lost weight during their 18-day ordeal, but drank water that had been dripping in the cave and are in good health, said Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, at a news conference at the hospital in Chiang Rai city. He spoke a day after the four remaining trapped boys were rescued.

The players and their coach, who were rescued over three days, "took care of themselves well in the cave," Thongchai said.

All the boys can now eat normal food and walk around. 

Drank water dripping in cave

The average weight loss was 4.4 pounds for those with known information, Thongchai said.

Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, left, speaks during a news conference at a hospital in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, on Wednesday. Thongchai said the soccer teammates rescued from a flooded cave lost weight during their two-week ordeal but had water while they were trapped and are in good health. (Vincent Thian/Associated Press)

The group had entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave to go exploring after soccer practice on June 23, but monsoon rains soon filled the tight passageways, blocking their escape. They were found by a pair of British divers 10 days later, huddled on a small, dry shelf just above the water, smiling with relief but visibly skinny.

The complex, high-risk mission for international and Thai divers, who guided the boys and coach through the cave's flooded and tight passageways, had riveted people worldwide. Highlighting the dangers, a former Thai navy SEAL volunteering to work on the rescue efforts died Friday while replenishing oxygen canisters placed along the escape route.

The boys had no diving experience. Each was guided out by a pair of divers through rocky, muddy and water passages that in places were just a crawl space.

Pump failed shortly after final rescue

The method was extremely risky, but dwindling oxygen levels in the cave and fears of more monsoon rains made a decision urgent. Relatively mild weather and a massive effort to pump out water created a window of opportunity.

People celebrate the cave evacuation on Tuesday. Thai Navy SEALs rescued 12 boys and their soccer coach from the cave, ending an ordeal that lasted more than 2 weeks. (Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press)

The confidence of the diving team, and expertise specific to the cave, grew after its first successful mission Sunday.

Narongsak Osatanakorn, the acting Chiang Rai governor who headed the rescue operation, said falling oxygen levels led rescuers to "speed up" the rescue.

He said crews pumped out more than one million cubic metres of water from the cave before divers entered, and that helped create dry areas to store supplies.

The main pump failed shortly after the last boy emerged, leading water levels to rapidly increase, the three Australian divers involved in the operation told the Guardian on Wednesday.

Thai navy SEALs — who were joined by divers from the U.S, China, the U.K., Germany, Denmark, Finland and Canada — have released new footage showing the challenges of navigating the murky waters of the cave complex.

Diver Erik Brown highlights the extreme danger rescuers faced during operation 13:59

"It's extraordinary what some of these guys pulled off," said Vancouver diver Erik Brown, who was part of the rescue operation for all three days.

In a CBC interview Wednesday, he recalled squeezing through one passageway of roughly 30 centimetres, where "you can't see your hand in front of your face."

Narongsak thanked the "very courageous rescuers," and said the government wanted to set up an educational centre outside the cave to let people who visit learn more about the rescue mission.

Health officials have previously said the boys would get a mental health evaluation, to address any problems caused by their ordeal. Outside experts have said the group identity of the soccer teammates and their youth would aid their ability to recover.

On Wednesday, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked people involved in the rescue.

In a nationally televised address, Prayuth said the government's efforts, the assistance of people in Thailand and abroad, and the outpouring of moral support made the mission a success. He also acknowledged the loss of a former navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, who died last week while replenishing air tanks inside the cave.

"His honour, sacrifice and legacy will forever be in our hearts," Prayuth said.

CBC's Briar Stewart describes celebratory atmosphere in northern Thailand after entire soccer team is safely brought out of Tham Luang cave 1:34

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