Some had already beaten long odds
Mae Sai, Thailand: Adul Sam-on, 14, has never been a stranger to peril.
At age 6, Adul had already escaped a territory in Myanmar known for guerrilla warfare, opium cultivation and methamphetamine trafficking. His parents slipped him into Thailand, in the hopes that proper schooling would provide him with a better life than that of his illiterate, impoverished family.
But his greatest escape came on Tuesday, when he and 11 other members of a youth soccer team, along with their coach, were all finally freed from the Tham Luang Cave in northern Thailand, after an ordeal stretching more than two weeks.
For 10 days, Adul and his fellow Wild Boars soccer squad survived deep in the cave complex as their food, flashlights and drinking water diminished. By the time British divers found them on July 2, the Wild Boars and their coach looked skeletal.
It was Adul, the stateless descendant of a Wa ethnic tribal branch once known for headhunting, who played a critical role in the rescue, acting as interpreter for the British divers.
Proficient in English, Thai, Burmese, Mandarin and Wa, Adul politely communicated to the British divers his squad's greatest needs: food and clarity on just how long they had stayed alive.
When a teammate piped up in broken English, "eat, eat, eat", Adul said he had already covered that point. In images released by the Thai Navy SEAL force, he had a huge grin on his gaunt face.
On Tuesday, the border town of Mae Sai, where Adul lived at a church, finally had cause to celebrate, as the Wild Boars' 18-day ordeal came to an end. In a three-day rescue mission, Adul and 12 others were safely extracted from the cave by a team of dozens of divers, doctors and support staff.
The extraordinary rescue of the youth soccer squad has been a rare cause for cheer in a nation that has endured four years of military governance and a growing rural-urban divide.
New York Times News Service