But the Thai frogmen were accustomed to tropical open water, not the murky cold currents racing through the cave.
They lacked the equipment, much less the expertise needed for caves, where divers cannot just rise to the surface should something go wrong.
Extracting them required long stretches underwater, in bone-chilling temperatures, and keeping them submerged for around 40 minutes at a time.
The boys were even given anti-anxiety medication to avert panic attacks.
Thailand’s new king donated supplies, and people across the nation volunteered in any way they could, cooking meals for rescuers, operating pumps to suck water out of the cave and hunting for hidden cracks in the limestone formations through which the Wild Boars could perhaps be lifted to safety.
But, most of all, the operation to save the team of 11- to 16-year old boys and their coach, said officials and divers, took bravery.“I don’t know of any other rescue that put the rescuer and the rescuee in so much danger over a prolonged period of time, unless it is something along the lines of firefighters going into the World Trade Center knowing that the building is on fire and is going to collapse,”Hodges said.Rain was forecast for June 23rd, the day the Wild Boars made their excursion to Tham Luang, but the boys had ventured into the cave before.Swift currents pushed divers off-track for hours at a time, sometimes tearing off their face masks.More than 150 Thai navy SEAL members, outfitted with improvised equipment sometimes held together with duct tape, helped create the escape route.On June 25th, Ruengrit Changkwanyuen, a Thai regional manager for General Motors, was among the first volunteer cave divers to show up at the scene.Dozens would follow, from places including Finland, Britain, China, Australia and the United States.Even for someone as experienced in cave diving as Ruengrit, the force of the water in Tham Luang shocked him, tearing his mask off when he failed to position himself directly facing the current.“It was like walking into a strong waterfall and feeling the water rushing at you,” he said.It took plastic cocoons, floating stretchers and a rope line that hoisted the players and coach over outcroppings.The boys had been stranded on a rocky perch more than a mile underground.