Rescuers ponder how to extract boys from flooded Thai cave as more rain due

Rescuers ponder how to extract boys from flooded Thai cave as more rain due
PHOTO: Reuters

CHIANG RAI, Thailand - Rescuers in Thailand were no closer on Thursday to deciding when and how to extract 12 boys and their football coach from a flooded cave complex, where they were found this week, pale and weak but otherwise in good health, after nine days lost underground.

The dramatic search and rescue operation for the junior football team, who disappeared in the cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai on June 23, had seemed to be nearing an end when a team of British and Thai divers found the boys late on Monday, clustered on small, muddy bank in a flooded chamber.

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

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.

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.

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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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.

"Their conditions, we can see that their morale is good but what about their strength and their ability? That's up to the team inside to decide," Kobchai told reporters on Thursday.

"Our job is to keep pumping out water and it is up to the team inside to assess the safety level and whether the kids can travel safely through," he said.

Also read: Thai cave rescue: 'Hang in there!' Once-trapped Chilean miner tells stranded boys

Some relatives of the boys gathered near the cave early on Thursday, where a few rescuers were marching up to its entrance, a contrast to days of frantic activity during a search that has grabbed media attention around the world.

One mother said she had still not been able to contact her boy.

"We can't send them messages yet," said Ratdao Chantrapul, 37, the mother of 14-year-old Prajak Sutham.

"Yesterday, they tried to take in mobile phones but the bag it was in broke," she said.

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Rescuers had to contend with days of heavy rain that flooded the cave complex at the beginning of the search but the weather has been relatively dry for the past four days.

Rescuers have sent in food, water and medical staff while they have been pumping water out of the tunnels in a bid to lower water levels to help with the rescue.

But the meteorological department warned on Thursday that up to 60 per cent of the country's north, including Chiang Rai, can expect heavy rain from July 7 to July 12.

Also read: Thailand cave rescue: What now for the boys?

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