Thailand cave rescue latest: 12 boys and football coach could be trapped for months, warns military

Rescuers race to pump water from underground chamber amid forecast of heavy rain

Tom Embury-Dennis
Tuesday 03 July 2018 11:55
Comments
Boys found alive in cave in Thailand

The 12 boys and their football coach found alive in a cave in Thailand may be trapped there for months, the country’s military has said.

Rescuers are racing to pump water from the Tham Luang Nang Non Cave before the predicted arrival of heavy rain, which may complicate efforts to free the group, who have been trapped 1km underground for the last 10 days.

In video shot by British divers as the group were found, torchlight reveals boys in shorts and red and blue shirts in an underground cavern beside an expanse of water.

But with the onset of the rainy season, Thai navy captain Anand Surawan warned: “[We will] prepare to send additional food to be sustained for at least four months and train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water.”

Police have said the 25-year-old football coach could face legal action for leading the group into the cave network.

Divers struggled through narrow passages and murky waters to find the boys, aged between 11-16, and their coach late on Monday night on an elevated rock about 2.5 miles from the mouth of the cave.

"How many of you are there - 13? Brilliant," a member of the multinational rescue team, speaking in English, tells the boys. "You have been here 10 days. You are very strong."

News of the boys' survival sparked jubilation in a nation that has been gripped by the harrowing drama.

"Thank you," one of the boys says.

Care packages dropped for boys missing in Thailand cave

One boy asks when they will get out, to which the rescuer answers: "Not today. You have to dive."

The boys were found in weak condition, but with only minor injuries.

Interior minister Anupong Paochinda said rescuers needed to intensify efforts to reduce water levels in the cave.

Rain continued to fall in Chiang Rai on Tuesday and was forecast to intensify from Wednesday.

"Quickly pump out water first to get the kids out as soon as possible," Mr Paochinda told reporters. "If it rains too much, water levels will rise and make getting them out harder."

Two British divers, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, were first to reach the boys, having had a wealth of experience in cave rescue, according to Bill Whitehouse of the British Cave Rescue Council.

They found the group along with a team of Thai navy Seal divers.

The boys went missing with their coach when they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in a forest park near Thailand's northern border with Myanmar after football practice on 23 June.

Rescuers had been focusing on an elevated mound, which cavers have named "Pattaya Beach", in the cave complex's third chamber, knowing that it could have provided the boys with a refuge when rains flooded the cave.

Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said the divers reached Pattaya Beach but found it flooded, so went 400 metres further down and discovered the team.

When news came through that the boys had been found, relatives waiting at a nearby shelter were seen cheering, smiling and receiving calls. Rescuers shook hands and congratulated each other as occasional cheers broke out.

The 13 people awaiting rescue have been given energy gels to sustain them while a plan is worked out to bring them out safely.

"Helping the kids will take time," Navy chief, Admiral Naris Pratoomsuwan, told reporters.

"From the operations centre in the third chamber to where they were found, it takes about three hours to get there and three hours to come back."

Provincial governor Narongsak said the group's health was assessed overnight and the boys had sustained only light injuries. Rescue workers would now focus on getting them out, then a hand over to medical teams waiting outside the cave, he said.

Sura Jeetwatee, a doctor who is part of the operations, said the boys were able to walk and had survived by staying where they were and drinking water that dripped from stalactite formations.

"They were smart to drink water in the cave," Mr Jeetwatee told Reuters.

Assistant government spokesperson Colonel Athisit Chainuwat said the Seal team was still with the boys and rescuers were trying to install lights and a power supply, and get communications equipment to the boys.

"The prime minister asked that this be a lesson in disaster relief in the future," Mr Athisit said.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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