Shortly After Thai Soccer Team Was Rescued, a Main Pump Broke, Causing Water in Cave to Rise

Shortly after all 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach were rescued from the Tham Luang cave complex in Thailand and safely out of harm’s way, one of the main pumps failed and water began to fill the cave.

Maj. Charles Hodges, the United States mission commander for the 353rd Special Operations unit for the Air Force, who was part of the rescue operation, told CBS This Morning that one of the pumps, which had been running nonstop, shut off while rescuers were still inside the cave.

Hodges explained that had the pump broken during the rescue, water levels in chamber three would have risen to the point where they would not have been able to reach chambers one or two, which had to be passed through to reach the cave’s exit.   

At the time he learned of the pump’s failures, Hodges told CBS This Morning that three of the four Navy SEALs who stayed with the boys for a large portion of the ordeal had just made their way into chamber three. He said it was an “abort criteria” for everyone and when the water started rising, everyone rushed 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," he said.

Although seeing the last boy come out of the cave was a celebratory moment, Hodges said the real triumph didn't come until every last person was safe.

GettyImages-996301392 Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn, fourth on the left, and the mission team celebrate after a news conference at a makeshift press center in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 11. YE AUNG THU/Getty Images

The pump breaking wasn’t the only point during the rescue when disaster seemed imminent. Hodges told NBC’s Today that at the beginning of the mission, the risk matrix wasn’t on their side because of extreme physical and fatigue hazards, and the possibility that the life-saving equipment could break down.  

“We were fully expecting casualties,” he explained, adding that he thought he was being generous in telling Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn that there was a 60 to 70 percent chance of success.

During his interview with CBS This Morning, however, Hodges credited the “optimistic” Thai culture for balancing the emotional lows of the operation. Newsweek reached out to the United States Air Force but did not receive an immediate response.

"Even though the odds seemed impossible, what I've always been taught is to take risks and be bold when the situation calls for it, and this situation absolutely did,” Hodges said.

Master Sgt. Derek Anderson, who was also involved in the rescue, told NBC’s Today that he’s glad everyone can walk away from the rescue with a smile on their face and applauded the boys for being brave.

On Tuesday, after almost three weeks in the cave, all 12 boys, who ranged in age from 11 to 17, and their coach had been successfully extracted and are currently recovering at the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital. The boys were reunited with their parents, albeit with a glass between them to mitigate the risk of transmitting an infection. 

GettyImages-991813610 (1) Rescue personnel arrive for 12 boys and their coach, who were trapped in Tham Luang cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, July 5. Trapped in the cave for more than two weeks, they were rescued just in time. YE AUNG THU/Getty Images