Thai soldiers rescue American students lost in jungle

It wasn’t as difficult or dramatic as the Tham Luang cave rescue, but a team of Thai soldiers, park rangers and local volunteers rescued 11 exchange students from the United States last week after they lost their way deep inside a national park in northern Thailand and were stranded on a cliff after dark.

“We got lost, and they saved us, heroically. Khap khun ka (‘thank you’ in Thai),’’ said one of the female students from the back of a pick up truck as it emerged from the park late at night. She embraced one of the Thai rescue workers as ambulances and a fire truck waited nearby. Local media did not report the names of the students, although a video of them emerging from the park was posted on the website.

“We are okay. He is our superhero,’’ said another female student pointing to a Thai rescue worker she called Kan.

Another student said they had called the Tourist Police for help at about 7 p.m. Fortunately, a mobile phone signal was accessible at the cliff where they were stranded. Police and park officials used the GPS signal from the student’s phone to pinpoint their location. A rescue team reached them just after midnight.

“The cliff where they were trapped was very high, and so it was very dangerous,’’ said Kan, the rescue worker.

The 11 students, 10 young women and one young man, are studying science at Chiang Mai University. They arrived in Thailand six weeks ago, and their ages range from 18 to 22 years old.

They had entered the park, the Huey Tueng Tao Reservoir, at about 2 p.m. and were heading to Tad Mok Waterfall but lost their way. As they had not checked in with park officials when they entered, the rangers were not aware anyone was lost. Trekkers are required to register at the park entrance and be accompanied by a ranger, but the students said they had been unaware of the rules. The cliff where they ended up is called Nok Kok Cliff.

“We were hiking to a waterfall, and then the trail wasn’t clear enough, and we thought we were following it. Then we got to the top of a waterfall, and it was only cliffs so we couldn’t go any further,’’ said the male student.

Although the danger of being lost in a forest after dark is genuine, the rescue was comparatively simple compared to the effort required in July to rescue 13 young members of a Thai soccer team who had been trapped in a flooded cave in the neighboring province of Chiang Rai.

That rescue required international help and a high degree of expert and technical skills. A Thai Navy SEAL perished while trying to save the boys.

Last week, Thailand threw a huge ‘Thank You Party’ at the Royal Plaza in Bangkok for all who participated in the cave rescue. King Maha Vajiralongkorn bestowed official thank you letters on all who helped in the rescue effort. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was on hand to personally thank the volunteers and rescue personnel from Thailand and abroad.

The members of the Wild Boar soccer team who had been trapped in the cave told reporters their lives had already returned to normal. They once again expressed their gratitude to everyone who helped save them.