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Tears flow as Thai boys and parents see each other for first time since cave rescue

Robyn Dixon and Sasiwan Mokkhasen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

CHIANG RAI, Thailand -- Twelve boys and their coach who were rescued from deep within a flooded cave in northern Thailand made two-finger victory signs from their hospital beds on Wednesday.

Thai authorities aired the first footage Wednesday of the Thai boys rescued with their coach after being stranded in a flooded cave complex for days, in a tightly controlled event designed to protect the children from media attention and showcase pristine hospital facilities.

The boys, rescued in three groups from the Tham Luang Nang Non caves in northern Thailand, were in good health mentally and physically, according to doctors, with only one showing signs of a lung infection. They had lost weight -- an average of 4 1/2 pounds each -- but were hungry and largely unharmed from their ordeal.

Another boy who earlier showed signs of a lung infection has recovered, doctors said.

Video showed the boys wearing masks while resting in beds in Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in the city of Chiang Rai near the rescue site. Several flashed a victory sign.

Some parents wept as they gazed excitedly at their children through a window looking onto the hospital, some waving. All wore yellow shirts in celebration of the birth month of Thailand's King Rama X.

Some families were allowed in the ward, although they had to remain 6 feet from the boys and no hugging was allowed, doctors said.

Rear Admiral Apakorn Youkongkaew, chief of the Thai Navy SEALs, said there had been no choice but to bring the group out of the cave swiftly, because oxygen levels were depleting rapidly and they would not have survived much longer.

The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, Ekapol Chantawong, were fitted with diving suits and face masks before being ferried from the cavern by divers. "They just stayed still and breathed as they were being carried out," he said.

The youths were sedated to keep them calm and placed on stretchers when they emerged from the water into Chamber 3, the site of the underground command center where the stretchers were passed from hand to hand along a line of more than 100 rescuers. He said some actually fell asleep while on the stretchers.

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