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A curious soccer team, a flooded Thai cave and a perilous trek to safety

A curious soccer team, a flooded Thai cave and a perilous trek to safety
Rescue workers move air tanks at the Tham Luang cave complex as the rescue operation begins Sunday. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP/Getty Images)

Thai divers began a rescue operation Sunday for 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave since late June. Crews were battling floodwaters, darkness and poor ventilation to extract the team from deep within the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex in northern Thailand. The high-risk search and rescue operation has drawn divers and volunteers from several countries and captivated people around the globe.

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JUNE 23 | The team goes missing

After soccer practice, the boys and their coach explore the nearby Tham Luang Nang Non caves in Chiang Rai, near the Myanmar border. The lush forests of northern Thailand are home to hundreds of caves that attract visitors, but Tham Luang Nang Non is deeper and more dangerous than most, and especially treacherous during the rainy season.

JUNE 24 | Clues

Hand- and footprints found on dry ground give rescuers hope that the missing team reached an elevated path safe from the water, while abandoned shoes and bags suggest they then ventured farther into the cave complex.

Thai military bring water pumps to the cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Thai military bring water pumps to the cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand. (Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images)

JUNE 26 | Pumping water out

Rescuers led by a team of elite navy divers pump water out of the caves to create breathing space for divers as they venture deeper into the complex.

JUNE 28 | Punching a hole

Rescuers punch a hole into the side of a mountain in a desperate attempt to drain rising water from the cave. But the effort appears unsuccessful and the situation remains dire, with no guarantee that the water will soon recede. The boys have been missing for five days.

JULY 1 | Spiritual help

As the operation moves into its second week with no sign of the boys, a crowd of monks and holy people outside the cave grows as many look for spiritual guidance. “It feels as if we are all in water and we need something to hang onto,” says a novice Buddhist nun who came from Bangkok, more than 450 miles away, to pray for the missing team and for the rain to stop.

A happy family member shows the latest pictures of the missing boys taken by rescue divers inside Tham Luang cave.
A happy family member shows the latest pictures of the missing boys taken by rescue divers inside Tham Luang cave. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP/Getty Images)

JULY 2 | Alive!

A pair of British divers find the boys and their coach alive, still wearing their soccer uniforms and very hungry. The dramatic discovery brings cries of relief from relatives who had gathered at the mouth of the cave. The moment is captured on video and posted on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page. The youths appear alert and seem anxious to see daylight again. But their ordeal is not over.

JULY 3 | Diving lessons

Thai officials say the boys and their coach will probably have to swim underwater through the dark cave complex, an hours-long dive through murky waters and narrow passageways. A rotating team of Thai Navy SEALs is stationed with the group and begins teaching them the basics of diving.

JULY 4 | A rope will guide them

The boys practice wearing scuba masks and breathing, the first step in their journey to daylight. None of the boys has experience with diving equipment, and only some are believed to know how to swim. But a rope is being installed along the route to guide the evacuation.

A Thai military honor guard transports the body of former Thai navy SEAL Saman Gunan, who died in the Tham Luang cave rescue operations.
A Thai military honor guard transports the body of former Thai navy SEAL Saman Gunan, who died in the Tham Luang cave rescue operations. (Rungroj Yongrit / EPA/Shutterstock)

JULY 5 | A rescuer dies

A Thai navy diver dies during a mission in which he was placing air canisters along the path rescuers use to reach the team. Saman Gunan, a former Thai SEAL, passed out underwater and efforts to resuscitate him failed. His death underscores the danger of extracting the boys and their coach. But with heavy rain approaching, pressure mounts for a rescue before water levels rise again.

JULY 6 | Growing fears

Rain forecast for northern Thailand threatens to refill the caves with water, and alternative ways to bring the group out — through an opening in the mountainside above, or by drilling into the rock face — are not bearing fruit. The boys are being fortified with high-protein gels and foil warming blankets.

JULY 8 | The rescue effort begins

The first four boys successfully complete the perilous swim to safety as rescuers race to beat an oncoming storm. The boys will be brought out one by one along a path that rescue teams have lined with spare air tanks and lights. Officials warned that it could take as long as four days to bring out all the boys and their coach.

(Len De Groot / Los Angeles Times)

JULY 9 | Four more reach safety

Divers rescue four more boys, bringing the total saved to eight. The first four, rescued Sunday, are described as “happy and healthy” and have eaten meals. Their request: a Thai traditional fried rice dish, khao pad kra prao (rice topped with stir-fried meat and basil). The latest rescue leaves four boys and their coach underground for another night.

JULY 10 | All 13 are out

Thai navy SEALs confirm that the last five of the group are safe. Tuesday’s rescue was the most challenging yet. The final mission had to extract four boys, their coach, an army doctor and three navy SEALs who had stayed underground with the boys. The boys were taken by ambulance and helicopter to a hospital.

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July 10, 7 a.m.: This article has been updated with the rescue of the last five of the group.

10:30 a.m.: This article has been updated with the rescue of another four boys.

9:10 a.m.: This article has been updated with the first four boys out.

This article was originally posted at 6:20 a.m. on July 8.

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