MAE SAI, Thailand (Reuters) - A cave complex in Thailand where 12 schoolboys and their soccer 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.
“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 data base 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 guide book 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.
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.
Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpnat in BANGKOK; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel