Thailand cave rescue: Heavy rain may trigger early evacuation of trapped boys, as parents respond to notes

Deteriorating weather conditions prompt fears rescue workers may need to act imminently

Peter Stubley
Saturday 07 July 2018 19:01 BST
Missing Thai boys found trapped in cave with their football coach

Divers are preparing an operation to save the 12 boys trapped inside a flooded cave in Thailand within the coming days as heavy rain began falling on Saturday night, increasing the prospect that workers may be forced to launch the rescue effort sooner than planned.

The provincial governor, Narongsak Osatanakorn, had claimed the situation in the cave was “the best yet” even though authorities were “at war with water and time”.

However, weather conditions in the area began to deteriorate at 10pm local time and could now trigger an earlier evacuation in case further flooding makes any operation too dangerous.

“The plan that I’ve held on to from the beginning is that we have to bring the kids out and the determining factor of this plan is to have as little water as possible,” said Mr Narongsak.

“If it rains and adds to it again, we don’t know what other risk factors we will have to face”.

It was hoped that a rescue attempt would be made on Friday night but Mr Narongsak said it was not suitable as the boys “still cannot dive”.

The boys would ideally need at least two weeks of intensive training to safely swim out, according to Ben Reymenants, a diver who was involved in early rescue efforts.

“They don’t have that luxury,” Mr Reymenants told The Independent.

He said it took around four hours for experienced divers to reach the football team from the rescue camp inside chamber three of the cave.

It involves swimming 2.5km (1.5 miles) against a strong current through dark, narrow two-foot-wide passages with near-zero visibility due to muddy water.

Fortunately, the journey back is quicker and smoother because it is going with the flow.

Oxygen tanks, guidelines and lights have been placed along the route to make it easier to navigate.

“It is muddy but conditions are still favourable,” said Mr Reymenants.

On Saturday afternoon, Royal Thai Army soldiers said they had been told by superiors that the operation would likely begin Sunday or Monday.

The security cordon around the cave has increased, with plastic sheets draped around the approach, increasing speculation that a rescue might be imminent.

Other potential rescue options include stocking the cave with enough supplies and oxygen to keep them alive until the monsoon ends in three or four months, or drilling a shaft down from the forest above.

Elon Musk, the SpaceX and Tesla boss, has suggested feeding a small nylon tube through the cave network and inflating it with air to allow the children to walk out.

Divers remain hopeful the rescue mission will succeed, despite the death of former navy Seal diver Saman Gunan on Thursday.

The 12 boys – aged between 11 and 16 – and their 25-year-old coach were exploring the cave when they became trapped by flash flood waters on 23 June.

Specially-trained divers reached them on Monday and Thai navy Seals have released a photo of a note from the coach to the parents apologising for their ordeal.

Ekkapol Chantawong wrote: “To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologise to the parents.”

The mother of 14-year-old Nattawut Takamsai wrote in return: ”We want you to know that no parents are angry with you at all, so don’t you worry about that.”

Her letter also told the children: “We are not mad at you at all. Do take good care of yourself. Don’t forget to cover yourself with blankets as the weather is cold. We’re worried. You will come out soon.”

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