(CBS News) — A Thai health official said the 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand are in good condition and recovering at a hospital Wednesday morning following the 18-day ordeal. CBS News has learned the final four boys and the coach were rescued just in time. Hours after the last boy was pulled out, the main water pump in the caves malfunctioned, sending water rushing in.
Maj. Charles Hodges, the U.S. mission commander for the 353rd Special Operations unit for the Air Force, was a part of the rescue operation in Thailand. Hodges described the tense moments leading up to that final rescue to “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday.
“Well, three of the SEALs, there’s four of them back there, three of them made their way into chamber three and about the same time we got the word that the pumps that had been running nonstop shut off for an unknown reason and the water levels back in chamber three started rising which would have cut off our access back to chambers two, one and then out of the cave. And that’s an abort criteria for our guys and so when that water level started rising everybody started grabbing their kid and they were ready to get out. 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,” Hodges said.
Asked if there were other trying times during the operation that seemed like it might make the rescue impossible, Hodges said, “absolutely.”
“We had that thought the whole entire time. We also understood though we didn’t have the option to not attempt this,” he said. “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.”
Millions breathe a global sigh of relief as boys emerge safely from Thai cave
According to Thai health officials, when most of the boys were admitted, they were given antibiotics because of high white blood cell counts, reports CBS News’ Anna Werner. Some of the boys have lung infections and they each lost an average of about four pounds while in the cave, but overall, health officials said they are doing well, considering what they went through.
Rescue volunteers danced and sang when they learned the entire group was safely rescued Tuesday and at a school where some of the rescued boys attend, students gathered to celebrate.
The ordeal began more than two weeks ago, when the 12 boys and their soccer coach became trapped 2 and a half miles inside a complex cave system by fast-moving flood waters. As oxygen levels in the cave dropped and a new round of monsoon rains threatened to raise floodwaters, divers rushed in to rescue the boys. They were taken out in three groups, over 72 hours.
The last member of the rescue team to leave the cave was Australian doctor Richard Harris. His boss said he found out shortly afterward that his father had died. He had stayed in the cave to look after the boys’ health.
According to officials, the boys are doing well, in part because they stayed hydrated by drinking water dripping from the cave ceiling. They are now all being monitored for disease and infections.
Health officials said the boys are also doing well mentally. Perhaps because they stayed together, the official said, adding that the coach who took care of them should be admired.
Officials said the boys were given anti-anxiety pills to help keep them calm during their rescue. All of the boys and their coach are expected to be kept at the hospital through the weekend.
It may come as no surprise that the story of their rescue may become a movie. Film producers have been on the ground in Thailand scouting.
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