The Thai Cave Rescue Was Minutes Away From Catastrophe

From deep in the cave the cheers gave way to the sound of screaming and shouting, as the water started to rise.

Mae Sai, Thailand -- Failing water pumps caused a chaotic stampede inside Thailand’s Tham Luang cave, just moments after the daring rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team concluded.

Australian divers have given Ten Eyewitness News an extraordinary account of the operation to save the 12 young boys and their coach, where they revealed the carefully planned operation finished just in the nick of time, as water levels quickly began to rise.

After being guided through the diving and swimming section of the cave by rescue divers, the boys were loaded onto stretchers, still wearing their full-face masks, allowing them to breathe in oxygen-rich air.

Australian doctor Richard Harris (centre) and his dive buddy Craig Challen from Perth (second from left), posing with three DFAT staff. Source: supplied

Rescuers then formed a human chain, to transport each boy the final 1.5km of their journey to the surface.

In some rocky and steep parts, the stretchers were passed from person to person, to ensure it was a smooth process. In flatter areas of the cave rescuers carried the stretchers.

Thai Cave Rescue Was Minutes From Catastrophe

The Australian divers were part of this process and describe seeing the boys pass through more 150 sets of hands -- including their own -- as highly emotional.

But it wasn’t until the Thai navy seals who had been caring for the boys deep underground emerged that rescue crews began to celebrate.

The Australian divers describe a rolling thunder of cheering through the cave as the seals passed by.

However, the cheers then gave way to the sound of screaming and shouting, coming from further down in the cave system.

Huge pumps -- which had been working day and night to keep the water levels in the cave down -- had failed.

The water began rising, as quickly as one centimetre per minute.

In a flurry of spotlights, rescue workers began scrambling up the cave, slipping and sliding over rocks and make-shift stairs cut into the mud.

They all managed to make it out, but had the rescue of the boys been delayed, or had commanders chosen to extend it into a fourth day, the pump failure could have caused a catastrophe.

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