Efforts to rescue boys’ football team trapped in flooded Thai cave hindered by conditions

Authorities need to pump huge amounts of water from cavern before divers can search for missing teenagers and coach

Police continue search for football team missing inside Thai cave

Efforts to rescue a youth football team missing for three days inside a flooded cave in Thailand hinge on authorities being able to pump out enough water to give divers room to conduct searches.

Muddy waters that have filled the sprawling Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai are hindering efforts to find the group, Thai interior minister Anupong Paojinda said on Tuesday.

Mr Anupong said the goal was to “reach the kids,” but divers could proceed only when enough water is removed from the cave to give breathing space between the surface and the cavern ceiling.

About a dozen navy divers and other rescuers re-entered the cave on Tuesday morning to search for the boys, aged 11 to 16, before high water levels caused the operation to be suspended.

“The SEAL team will be working nonstop because it's already dark here too,” Mr Anupong said: “So night and day doesn't make a big difference. They'll just need to rotate.”

Divers have been seeking a way forward through the chambers of the cave complex, but have been forced to suspend their search several times.

The authorities are also seeking alternative ways in, using helicopters and search parties on foot to find possible holes in the ceilings of other parts of the cave.

A small glimmer of hope was dashed Tuesday afternoon after explorers found two fissures in the rock on the mountain in which the cave is located.

After evaluation, experts found neither could be used as a “chimney” to gain access to the cave.

Rain that fell overnight on Monday increased the difficulty of exploring inside the cave.

However, the initial chambers near the cave's entrance are dry, and a power line was extended inside to provide light and ventilation and help the divers communicate with those outside.

The team, known as the Wild Boars, and their 25-year-old coach, Ekapol "Aek" Chanthawong, entered the cave on Saturday afternoon after training and did not return.

“Coach Aek is very dedicated to the team,” said Noppadon Kanthawong, whose 13-year-old son plays for the side but decided to skip Saturday's cave trip.

“He would be there at the field waiting for kids to show up after school. It is a great way to keep healthy, away from screens and have friends. I can tell that they are very close to each other.”

Parents were camped out in tents outside the cave entrance on Monday evening as rain continued to pour down.

Medics sat in a tent nearby, and bicycles, backpacks and football boots the boys left behind remained at the entrance.

Authorities have said footprints and handprints were found inside the cave complex, and that tourists trapped there by past floods have been rescued after the waters receded.

Getting farther into the cave has required lots of oxygen and special diving skills, which would also complicate rescue efforts once the boys are found, officials said.

The cave, cut into a mountainside near the border with Myanmar, can flood severely during the rainy season, which runs from June to October, and there are warnings against exploring then.

Additional reporting by agencies

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