The dramatic three-day rescue of a youth soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand almost ended in tragedy Tuesday after the main pump reportedly malfunctioned, sending water into the caverns as the remaining rescuers were still trying to get out.
The final four boys and their soccer couch had just gotten out of the cave after the 18-day ordeal just hours before the pump failed as a medic and three Thai navy SEAL divers were making their way out, a U.S. military official who was part of the rescue effort told CBS News.
Maj. Charles Hodges, the U.S. mission commander for the 353rd Special Operations unit for the Air Force, told “CBS This Morning” as three of the SEALS made their way into chamber three of the cave they were told the pumps shut off for an “unknown reason,” and that the water levels suddenly started rising. Hodges said that would have cut access off to chambers two, one, and eventually access to get out of the cave.
“That’s an abort criteria for our guys and so when that water level started rising everybody started grabbing their kit and they were ready to get out,” Hodges told CBS News. “Thankfully, that last SEAL popped up at the last moment and everyone was able to get out of chamber three safely and make their way out and mission complete. It was a really exciting ending to an awesome mission.”
The scramble for crews to clear out of the cave as water levels rose was quite dramatic, as dozens of military personnel and civilians began abandoning the cave, leaving behind hundreds of air tanks that were used in the rescue, Thai military sources involved in the operation told ABC News.
Hodges said Tuesday that the startling ending to the rescue of the boys was just one of many tense moments during the operation to save the team.
“Even though the odds seemed impossible, what I’ve always been taught is to take risk and be bold when the situation calls for it and this situation absolutely did,” he told CBS.
The disclosure of the late risk in the rescue of the team came as health officials released more details on Wednesday about how the group survived during the ordeal.
Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, said the 12 boys and coach “took care of themselves well in the cave” and survived by drinking water dripping into their refuge.