Thailand authorities unsure how to free boys, coach trapped in cave

Geraldine Edwards
July 4, 2018

Six AFP dive officers are assisting the Thai-led rescue operation, where priorities are getting food and first aid to the 13 and preparing to evacuate them safely.

The world's attention has been riveted to their story, which echoes the tale of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days almost half a mile below the surface in 2010.

A video of the encounter was posted on Facebook by the Thai Navy SEALs, which shows the boys and their interactions with the divers.

Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, two expert cave divers from Britain, found the group about 300-400 meters (yards) past a section of the cave on higher ground that was believed to be where they might have taken shelter.

A video shared by the Thai Navy captured their first contact. Divers could also bring in food and other supplies to sustain the group until the water recedes enough for them to leave, or the team could be taught diving skills themselves to make the unsafe passage to safety.

While efforts to pump out floodwaters are continuing, it's clear that some areas of the sprawling cavern can not be drained, said Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, a member of Thailand's ruling military junta.

In 2010, he and Mr Volanthen also helped in an attempt to find Mr Eric Establie, an experienced French potholer who became trapped underground in the Ardeche region of southern France.

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A phone line is also being installed so the boys can talk to their families.

Speaking to media, Chiang Rai provincial governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said "We found them safe, but the operation isn't over". "We will take care of them until they can move".

The governor said that requests had been made to build "infrastructure" in the cave leading to the pocket where the teenagers and their coach are located. In the nearly 5-minute clip, the boys are illuminated by torchlight while a diver can be heard speaking to them.

Rear Admiral Apagorn Youkonggaew, head of the Thai navy's special forces, told reporters there was "no need to worry".

"How many of you?" a British voice asks as a flashlight scans the young boys huddled in a corner. The search turned tense as time went on and concern grew about whether the group would be found alive.

While news of their survival let family members breathe a sigh of relief, celebrations were cut short as rescuers realized extracting the team from the cave would prove more hard than originally imagined.

Thailand's prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has thanked the worldwide experts who assisted in the search.

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The soccer players, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach disappeared when flooding trapped them after entering the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai on June 23. But monsoon rains flooded several chambers and blocked their exit.

Pattaya Beach, the section of the cave where the boys are sheltering on a mud bank, is 5km into the 10km cave network and the conditions of the dive are treacherous, with nearly no visibility and rushing waters.

Besides the protein drink, Narongsak said they were given painkillers and antibiotics, which doctors had advised as a precaution. At present, the only way out of their refuge is by diving through the flooded caves, but the route is extremely challenging and none of the boys can even swim, much less scuba dive.

It would be a risky attempt, since none of the boys know how to swim.

The Tham Luang complex is prone to severe flooding during Thailand's rainy season, which lasts from June to October. That was despite the team having capabilities of working in zero visibility areas, land search and rescue, and diving in flooded caves.

Other teams are still scouring the mountainside in the hope of finding another way into the cave. A doctor, a nurse, and Navy SEALs are now keeping them company.

He said: "We found that most of the boys are in green condition".

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