Thailand's Tham Luang cave to become museum to showcase boys' rescue

Thailand's Tham Luang cave to become museum to showcase boys' rescue
PHOTO: Reuters

MAE SAI, Thailand - A cave complex in Thailand where 12 schoolboys and their football coach were trapped for more than two weeks before they were safely brought out will be turned into a museum to showcase the rescue, the head of the operation said on Wednesday.

Two British divers found the 12 boys and their coach in a cavern in the flooded Tham Luang cave system in the northern province of Chiang Rai on Monday last week, nine days after they went missing during an excursion.

They were all brought safely following a mission fraught with obstacles that ended late on Tuesday. A Thai rescue diver died last Friday, highlighting the dangers.

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"This area will become a living museum, to show how the operation unfolded," the head of rescue mission, Narongsak Osottanakorn, told a news conference.

"An interactive database will be set up," he said. "It will become another major attraction for Thailand."

Thai officials say the fate of the boys and the multinational rescue has put the cave firmly on the map and plans are in place to develop it into a tourist destination.

But Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday extra precautions would have be implemented both inside and outside the cave to safeguard tourists.

A guidebook describes the relatively unexplored Tham Luang cave as having an "impressive entrance chamber" leading to a marked path and then a series of chambers and boulders.

Villagers say it is known to be prone to flooding and many have urged authorities to post clearer warnings.

Chongklai Worapongsathorn, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said the cave would be closed from Thursday but did not say for how long.

He said plans were in place to "revive" an adjacent national park where hundreds of rescue workers and military personnel set up camp during the search and rescue.

Thai cave rescue: How each boy is extracted in complex process

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    The 10-km long Tham Luang cave, which has been described as a labyrinth, sits near the Thai border with Myanmar.

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    Rescue divers began operations on Sunday (July 8) to extract the 12 boys and their football coach from the massive Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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    Here's how the 12 boys might dive and walk out of the complex cave network. (Graphic Not drawn to scale)

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    The boys are located more than 4km from the mouth of the cave. Most of the boys don't know how to swim.

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    According to experts, divers required three hours to reach the boys from the mouth of the cave, Reuters reported. The boys' ordeal is expected to last 3 or more hours.

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    This undated handout photo taken recently and released by the Royal Thai Navy on July 7, 2018 shows a Thai Navy diver in the cave during rescue operations.

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    The boys will have to first dive for 400m before reaching Pattaya Beach, a chamber more than 4km from the cave's entrance. Then, they have to dive for another 130m before walking and climbing along a 400m-long dry area.

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    The first, nearly 1km-long section from where the boys have been huddling in darkness is believed to be the most difficult, requiring a long dive and crawling through mud and debris, with some crevices barely wide enough for a person.

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    The 5-km escape route cuts through dark, flooded and narrow passageways, as this still from a video circulating online shows.

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    How each boy will be tethered to the 2 adult rescue divers. Once past the first stretch, the boys' escape route forks east at a T-junction, and they must scrabble over some diverse terrain including giant boulders, sand and slippery rocks with sudden cliff-like drops and further submerged passageways.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    "The hole is really small, I have to take off my air tank to crawl through it," a 25-year-old Thai Navy Seal told Reuters before the rescue attempt. "As I do, I feel the edges of the hole on both my back and chest."

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    Rescue divers will have to remove their scuba tanks and roll them along while guiding the boys through. After that though, the tunnels widen, the waters subside, and walking is even possible.

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    There are several 'choke points' in the complex cave network. After the dreaded T-junction, the rest of the journey is expected to be relatively safe as they will have reached a forward operating base inside the cave.

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    Ambulances wait at the mouth of the cave to whisk the boys away to hospital when they emerge.

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    Divers resuming the rescue mission on Monday (July 9).

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    Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018.

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    Rescuers venturing into the cave in a photo released on July 7 by the Thai Royal Navy.

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    The high-risk operation at the Tham Luang caves paused overnight on Sunday (July 8) as rescuers recovered and oxygen tanks were replenished along the route.

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    Torchlight only affords visibility up to three feet in the murky waters.

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    A nearby hospital ready to receive the boys after they are rescued.

Superstitious Thais have been gripped by a legend about the cave - the full name of which is Tham Luang Nang Non or "cave of the reclining lady".

Legend has it that a beautiful princess ran away to the cave with her commoner lover. Her father sent soldiers to kill the lover, prompting the princess to commit suicide.

Surrounding mountains took on the shape of her body.

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