Rain adds urgency to rescue of last 5 trapped in Thai cave

Rain adds urgency to rescue of last 5 trapped in Thai cave
PHOTO: AFP

Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave Tuesday, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted.

The members of the "Wild Boars" team, aged between 12 and 16, were guided to safety through the twisting, submerged passages of the Tham Luang cave by a team of international expert divers flanked by Thai Navy SEALs over two days in a meticulously planned operation.

The emergence of the second batch of four on Monday evening was greeted with a simple "Hooyah" by the Thai SEAL team on their Facebook page, an exclamation that lit up Thai social media.

Also read: 8 rescued from Thai cave, but 5 remain trapped

The ups and downs of the rescue bid has entranced Thailand and also fixated a global audience, drawing comments of support from celebrities as varied as US President Donald Trump, football star Lionel Messi and tech guru Elon Musk.

Thailand's prime minister welcomed Musk into the cave complex late Monday, with the American later tweeting a standing offer of a mini-submarine escape pod to help the remaining five leave the tunnels.

Thai cave rescue: How each boy is extracted in complex process

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    The 10-km long Tham Luang cave, which has been described as a labyrinth, sits near the Thai border with Myanmar.

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    Rescue divers began operations on Sunday (July 8) to extract the 12 boys and their football coach from the massive Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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    Here's how the 12 boys might dive and walk out of the complex cave network. (Graphic Not drawn to scale)

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    The boys are located more than 4km from the mouth of the cave. Most of the boys don't know how to swim.

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    According to experts, divers required three hours to reach the boys from the mouth of the cave, Reuters reported. The boys' ordeal is expected to last 3 or more hours.

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    This undated handout photo taken recently and released by the Royal Thai Navy on July 7, 2018 shows a Thai Navy diver in the cave during rescue operations.

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    The boys will have to first dive for 400m before reaching Pattaya Beach, a chamber more than 4km from the cave's entrance. Then, they have to dive for another 130m before walking and climbing along a 400m-long dry area.

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    The first, nearly 1km-long section from where the boys have been huddling in darkness is believed to be the most difficult, requiring a long dive and crawling through mud and debris, with some crevices barely wide enough for a person.

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    The 5-km escape route cuts through dark, flooded and narrow passageways, as this still from a video circulating online shows.

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    How each boy will be tethered to the 2 adult rescue divers. Once past the first stretch, the boys' escape route forks east at a T-junction, and they must scrabble over some diverse terrain including giant boulders, sand and slippery rocks with sudden cliff-like drops and further submerged passageways.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    "The hole is really small, I have to take off my air tank to crawl through it," a 25-year-old Thai Navy Seal told Reuters before the rescue attempt. "As I do, I feel the edges of the hole on both my back and chest."

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    Rescue divers will have to remove their scuba tanks and roll them along while guiding the boys through. After that though, the tunnels widen, the waters subside, and walking is even possible.

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    There are several 'choke points' in the complex cave network. After the dreaded T-junction, the rest of the journey is expected to be relatively safe as they will have reached a forward operating base inside the cave.

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    Ambulances wait at the mouth of the cave to whisk the boys away to hospital when they emerge.

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    Divers resuming the rescue mission on Monday (July 9).

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    Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018.

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    Rescuers venturing into the cave in a photo released on July 7 by the Thai Royal Navy.

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    The high-risk operation at the Tham Luang caves paused overnight on Sunday (July 8) as rescuers recovered and oxygen tanks were replenished along the route.

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    Torchlight only affords visibility up to three feet in the murky waters.

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    A nearby hospital ready to receive the boys after they are rescued.

Fresh rains on Tuesday added urgency to the final stages of the treacherous rescue bid, several kilometres inside a mountain and through flooded, tight corridors.

It was unclear what time the rescue effort would resume on Tuesday, with operations chief Narongsak Osottanakorn telling reporters divers had crafted plans to extract four people at a time.

"If we bring five we have to change the plan," he told reporters late Monday.

A rescue official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the timings of Tuesday's dives were not yet set.

"But I guarantee they will all be safe," he added, reflecting an increasingly bullish attitude after two successful operations so far.

Thai authorities said the first four rescued Sunday were in "good health" but have been kept in quarantine until the risk of infection subsides.

Rescue chief Narongsak did not issue an update on the condition of the second group, who were also whisked to hospital.

Information on the rescue operation, the health of those rescued -- and their identities -- has been tightly guarded by Thai authorities.

But the progress of a rescue, which early on had looked like it could be stalled until after the monsoon season, has brought joy to the friends and family of the stricken group.

"I want him to be healthy and come back to study quickly," Phansa Namyee, classmate of 16-year-old footballer Night said.

"I want to go play with them... take him to some restaurants and spend time together."

All 13 members of Thai junior football team found in flooded cave

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    Parents of the boys trapped in the Chiang Rai cave shed tears of joy and relief on Wednesday morning as they watched a video of them being treated for minor injuries.

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    The Royal Thai Navy SEALS shot the video and posted it on their “ThaiSEAL” Facebook page, showing the 12 boys noticeably thinner and looking exhausted.

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    But the boys swaddled in silvery blankets proclaim themselves in good health in the clip.

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    Their parents watched the video while they were waiting to talk to the boys via a specially rigged phone system.

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    They reaffirmed their love for the children and said they were forgiven for going astray, since none of them could have expected the June 23 cave excursion would turn into a nail-biting 10-day drama, with no clear end yet in sight.

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    Attention has now turned to how to get the group back out through several kilometers of dangerously flooded tunnels.

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    The navy has raised the possibility that the 13 could be in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province until the flood waters recede, at the end of the rainy season in four months.

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    But others say the boys could be out in a matter of days if the weather is on their side and water can be pumped out of the cave complex, and if they can be taught to use scuba gear.

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    Kobchai Boonarana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation department, said it was up to the rescue team in the cave to decide whether and when the boys would be strong enough to tackle the journey out.

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    “We miss them and want to see them get out very soon,” one parent said as the video played. “They look thinner, but we’re happy they’re safe.”

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    Rescuers found all 12 boys and their football coach alive inside the flooded Tham Luang Cave Monday night.

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    The 13 victims from a local football club, Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai, have been stranded inside the cave in Chiang Rai province because of flash floods since June 23.

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    The group, mostly seated and with baggy football shirts pulled over their knees and illuminated by torchlight, asked for food and to leave the cave immediately, according to the video taken late Monday and shared on the official Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEALS.

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    The group appeared exhausted, rake thin, sensitive to the light but lucid, with some speaking faltering English to try to communicate with the unidentified diver.

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    Family members celebrate while camping out near Than Luang cave following news all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province late July 2, 2018.

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    The Chiang Rai governor praised and gave credits to two British cave diving experts who found the missing team. He did not mention the names but it is understood to be John Volanthen and Richard Stanton (pic, in blue).

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    Three British cave-divers, Richard William Stanton (L), John Volanthen (2nd-L) and Robert Charles Harper (3rd-L) arrive at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park near the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai on June 27, 2018

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    12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old assistant football coach went missing on Saturday after they decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province,

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    despite a sign warning visitors that the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.

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    Bicycles and football shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group.

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    But the search has so far yielded no other trace.

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    The race to find the boys has gripped the Southeast Asian nation

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    International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM),

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    are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.

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    Plans to drill into the mountainside overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.

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    The 10-kilometre cave is one of Thailand's longest. Visitors are usually only allowed up to 800 meters inside the cave, which has a reputation for being difficult to navigate.

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    Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.

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    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site, offering encouragement to rescuers and comfort to relatives.

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    "Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it," said Prayuth.

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    "They're athletes. They're strong," he told the boys' relatives in an attempt to comfort them.

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