- Getty Images/Royal Thai Navy
- Monday marks one year since a Thai youth soccer team entered a cave complex in northern Thailand, and got trapped there due to unexpected flooding.
- They were eventually rescued after 17 harrowing days.
- They were heavily sedated with ketamine, xanax, and atropine – a saliva suppressant – before cave divers pulled them out of the complex, the BBC reported in a Monday podcast.
- They were so heavily drugged that some of them were barely breathing at some points.
- The rescue operation was so risky that the rescue team, which mainly consisted of foreigners, got immunity from the Thai government in case anyone was seriously harmed, lead diver Vernon Unsworth told the BBC.
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The Thai boys who were trapped in a cave last summer were given ketamine, xanax, and saliva suppressant atropine to stop them panicking during their dramatic rescue, the BBC revealed on Monday.
The 12 boys, aged between 10 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach were given the cocktail of drugs before they were dragged out of Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand last July, BBC South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head told the “Beyond Today” podcast.
Ketamine, most commonly used as a horse tranquilizer, is a general anesthetic, and xanax induces drowsiness.
Atropine slows the heart rate, and was used to dry up fluids in the mouth to mitigate the risk of the boys choking on their own saliva.
The rescue team re-administered the ketamine twice to prevent the boys from regaining consciousness, Head said, adding that larger boys were given bigger doses.
The boys and their coach were so heavily sedated that, in some cases, they were barely breathing, Head reported.
- Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
How the boys were pulled out
Each team member was given a full face mask, then strapped by their hands and feet to a sort of stretcher with cable ties, Head reported.
Divers then transported them out from their hiding place to the cave – through a series of bendy passages that measured about 2.5 miles – in a relay system, Head said.
Rescuers moved the boys by hugging them closer to their bodies, or pushing them ahead, before passing them onto other divers, Head reported.
Nearer the entrance, the divers attached the boys to a pulley system installed on the roof of the cave and pulled them along.
This part of the rescue fits with what is shown in the graphic below, which INSIDER published last year, before the most detailed description of the rescue technique was known.
- Samantha Lee/Business Insider
The moment the divers knew they had to sedate the boys
Sedating the boys and their coach was the only way to get them out alive, Vernon Unsworth, the British diver who helped lead the rescue efforts, told the podcast.
The rescue team – which consisted of professional divers and anesthetists – were initially torn over whether to use sedation.
Unsworth recalled the conversation between Australian anesthetist Richard “Harry” Harris and British cave diver Richard Stanton at the time.
“Rick had phoned Doc Harry, he said: “This is what we’ve got planned, but we need to sedate them.’
“Doc Harry said: ‘It won’t work.’ He said: ‘It just won’t work.’
“Rick said to Doc Harry: ‘Well, I’d like you to sleep on it overnight.’
“And Harry said to Rick: ‘Well, what if I decide not to do it?’
“And Rick said: ‘They all die.'”
Before proceeding with the sedation and rescue efforts, the British divers and Harris, an Australian national, made sure the Thai government gave them immunity in case anything went wrong.
Unsworth told the BBC: “We had UK embassy officials up there [in northern Thailand] looking after us because we were generally concerned for our own wellbeing in terms of if this all went wrong. The finger would be pointed at us.”
- Panu Wongcha-um/Reuters
Monday marks exactly one year since the team entered the cave after soccer practice as part of an initiation ceremony on June 23, 2018.
The boys were originally meant to enter the cave and go to the end of a tunnel, write their names on the wall, then come back, one of the rescue divers said last year.
But the area was suddenly hit by heavy rain, and a flash flood trapped them inside.
They ended up getting stuck there for 17 days – with little food and water, and the constant risk or drowning or running out of oxygen – before all of them were successfully rescued.
All the 12 boys and their coach attended a ceremony at the cave complex on Monday to commemorate one year since the ordeal.
Good morning from the #ThamLuangCave, it’s been (a little more than) a year ago when 12 boys and their football coach went into the cave and were miraculously rescued 18 days later. Today, the boys and others a commemorating it at the same location today. pic.twitter.com/bMJiCU1bad
— Saksith Saiyasombut (@SaksithCNA) June 24, 2019
Authorities have since erected a statue of Saman Kunan, the Thai Navy SEAL who died from lack of oxygen while assisting in the rescue efforts last year, at the mouth of the cave.