Thailand cave rescue: Boys given crash course in diving to prepare for hazardous evacuation

New video emerges showing boys saying they are well, and joking with navy divers

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 04 July 2018 11:42 BST
Missing Thai boys found trapped in cave with their football coach

The 12 boys trapped with their football coach in a cave in Thailand have been shown how to use scuba masks for the first time as they receive a crash course in diving ahead of a possible evacuation.

A new video was released on Wednesday by Thailand’s navy Seals, showing the boys smiling, even occasionally laughing with military divers while introducing themselves to the camera.

Since the boys were found on Monday night by two British volunteer divers, alive and quite miraculously well after nine days lost in the deep network of tunnels and pools, they have been joined in the cave by seven members of the Seals including two medics.

No attempts will be made to extract the boys on Wednesday, authorities said, with the video showing they are healthy, being provided with high-protein drinks and thermal blankets.

The 2.5 mile route from the cave entrance to where the boys are trapped is taking experienced divers about three hours to traverse, according to the British Cave Rescue Council, which dispatched members to help with the operation in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Chiang Rai province.

“There’s air pockets along the way,” said Gary Mitchell, the group’s assistant vice-chairman. “It’s confined spaces. It’s almost zero visibility. There’s currents to battle against in places as well. So it’s a really quite a strenuous environment to be in,” he said.

Most if not all of the boys, aged 11-16, do not know how to swim. At a news conference on Wednesday, the province’s governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said the boys have been practising wearing diving masks and breathing, but he doesn’t believe they have attempted any practice dives.

He said it was unknown when an extraction could be attempted. “If it’s risky or not safe, we will not proceed yet,” he said. “It has to be 100 per cent safe.”

The preferred and safest option for cave rescue experts would be to clear enough water from the system to allow the boys to walk out. As of late on Tuesday, about 120 million litres of water had been pumped out, or about 1.6 million every hour, aided by unseasonably good weather.

But some Thai officials have suggested there is a sense of urgency, with a new storm forecast to bring heavy rains at the weekend. If the water level rises again, the boys could be forced to wait in the cave for months until the end of Thailand’s monsoon season.

Mr Narongsak said he did not think the boys were likely to be trapped for that long, though supplies are being prepared for up to four months. The monsoons end around late October.

And he suggested that if some boys do progress quicker than others, both in terms of health and diving techniques, they could be brought out in phases.

“All 13 don’t have to come out at the same time,” he told reporters. “Who is ready first can go first.”

More details emerged on Wednesday about the period leading up to the boys’ discovery on Monday, after they embarked on their ill-fated adventure into the cave following a game of football on 23 June.

According to one of the navy Seals who met the group in the cave, the team’s 25-year-old coach Ekapol Chanthawong is in the worst condition physically, after he refused to eat any of the snacks or water brought along on the expedition, reserving them for the boys.

The Seal also told the Thai-language outlet Sanook that the “extremely selfless” coach kept the children calm, advising them to conserve their energy and to drink only the water that could be collected dripping from the ceiling, rather than the contaminated floods around them.

Nonetheless, the coach has also met with angry accusations for leading the boys into the cave system when it is normally closed during the monsoon. Local police chief Colonel Komsan Saard-an told Thailand’s Khao Sod newspaper that he would not rule out charges of criminal negligence.

For now, the families of the football team are simply overjoyed to see images of the boys emerging, screened on national TV as part of wall-to-wall coverage.

Attempts are being made to transport a mobile phone to the cave so that they can speak to the children, but a first try failed when a waterproof case was breached.

Kian Kamluang, whose 16-year-old son Pornchai is inside, said she had thought it was a 50 per cent chance that her child would be found.

“It’s like he has been given a new life,” she said, adding that she’ll never let her son go into a cave or near water again.

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