Thai cave boys to get 4 months' food, learn to dive as rescue efforts may be prolonged

MAE SAI, Thailand - Food and medical help reached 13 members of a Thai youth football team found rake thin but alive, huddled on a ledge deep inside a flooded cave nine days after they went missing, as the focus turned Tuesday to how to get them out.

The Thai military said it is providing months' worth of food and diving lessons to the boys, discovered kilometres into the pitch-black and waterlogged Tham Luang network of caves in the country's monsoon-drenched north.

"How many are you?...thirteen... brilliant," shouts a British diver, in an astonishing exchange captured in a video of the moment help finally reached the youngsters.

The incredible footage showed the emaciated boys in baggy mud-slicked football jerseys, shielding their eyes from the divers' torches.

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Posted by Thai NavySEAL on Monday, July 2, 2018

Much-needed food and medical supplies - including high-calorie gels and paracetamol - reached them Tuesday as rescuers prepared for a prolonged extraction operation, with several chambers still submerged.

"(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," Navy Captain Anand Surawan said, according to a statement from Thailand's Armed Forces.

The astonishing rescue sparked jubilation across the country after the country mounted a massive and gruelling operation beset by heavy downpours and fast-moving floodwaters.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • But the boys swaddled in silvery blankets proclaim themselves in good health in the clip.
  • Their parents watched the video while they were waiting to talk to the boys via a specially rigged phone system.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • “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.”
  • Rescuers found all 12 boys and their football coach alive inside the flooded Tham Luang Cave Monday night.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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
  • 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,
  • despite a sign warning visitors that the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.
  • 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.
  • But the search has so far yielded no other trace.
  • The race to find the boys has gripped the Southeast Asian nation
  • International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM),
  • are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.
  • Plans to drill into the mountainside overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.
  • 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.
  • Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.
  • Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site, offering encouragement to rescuers and comfort to relatives.
  • "Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it," said Prayuth.
  • "They're athletes. They're strong," he told the boys' relatives in an attempt to comfort them.

"We called this 'mission impossible' because it rained every day... but with our determination and equipment we fought nature," Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said Tuesday.

The boys were discovered at about 10:00 pm Monday by British divers some 400 meters (1,300 feet) from where they were believed to be stranded several kilometers inside the cave.

READ ALSO: Thai cave rescue: How it unfolded

In the video, posted on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page, one of the boys shouts to the rescuers: "we are hungry.. shall we go outside?" In response the British diver says: "Many, many people are coming... we are the first," in reference to the vast and complex rescue operation that has taken over the mountainside.

'UNIMAGINABLE' RESCUE

The harrowing task of getting the boys out is complicated by the fact that they are in a weak state and are not experienced divers.

Experts said it could take weeks - if not months - to get them out with much of the cave still submerged by floods.

If diving proves impossible, there is a outside chance they can be drilled out or wait for waters to recede and walk out on foot.

But the clock is ticking with heavy rains forecast to return this week as the monsoon season bites deeper.

The priority is to rehabilitate the group before they start the tricky journey out, officials said, reluctant to offer a concrete timeline.

Relatives - and much of Thailand - exploded with relief and jubilation on getting the news the team were alive and safe.

"It's unimaginable. I've been waiting for 10 days, I never imagined this day would come," the father of one of the boys said.

The "Wild Boar" team became trapped on June 23 after heavy rains blocked the cave's main entrance.

Rescuers found their bicycles, football boots and backpack near the cave's opening, and spotted handprints and footprint further in - leading them to the spot they were eventually found.