Treacherous Thai cave rescue bid enters day 2

Thai soldiers walk out from the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the 8 boys and their coach trapped inside.
PHOTO: AFP

A treacherous rescue bid to free a youth football team trapped in a flooded Thai cave entered its second day Monday, with nine of the "Wild Boars" still inside after elite divers guided four out.

Looming rain was one of the main enemies of the operation, threatening to flood the cave complex in mountainous northern Thailand, although a bewildering array of other dangers could also doom their safe return.

Thailand has waited anxiously for news of the safe return of the boys and their 25-year-old coach since they became trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex on June 23, in a saga that has dominated global headlines.

They spent nine days unaccounted for inside the cave, before British divers found the emaciated and dishevelled group huddling on a muddy bank.

On Sunday four members of the "Wild Boar" team were successfully brought out from the cave, after authorities decided they had to rush ahead with a rescue operation to beat monsoon rains.

They were guided by expert divers who plotted the hours-long escape through more than four kilometres of twisting passageways and flooded chambers.

Rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn on Sunday said four of the team -- affectionately dubbed by Thai social media Wild Boars 1,2,3,4 -- were "safe" but released few details about their condition or identities.

He said the extraction effort would likely resume early Monday.

"We've been working continuously overnight," a Chiang Rai government source told AFP on Monday morning, requesting anonymity, and confirming that there had only been a pause of the actual extraction operations.

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.

Agonising wait

With authorities releasing few details of the rescue bid, parents continued their agonising wait to be reunited with their sons.

"I am still waiting here at the cave, keeping my fingers crossed to see whether my son will be one of those to come out today," Supaluk Sompiengjai, a mother of Pheeraphat -- known by his nickname "Night" -- told AFP.

"We heard four boys are out but we do not know who they are. Many parents are still here waiting. None of us has been informed of anything."

But she added she was "happy" at the prospect of seeing her son again.

To get the boys out, divers will be forced by the narrow passages to accompany them one at a time.

None of the boys have scuba diving experience and experts have warned they could easily panic while swimming underwater in darkness.

Touching memes celebrate success of #ThaiCaveRescue mission

The lack of space has added complexity to storing enough canisters of oxygen along the route out.

The death of a former Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of oxygen in the cave on Friday underscored the danger of the journey even for professionals.

Ambulances arrived early Monday at the cave entrance.

The hordes of global and local media have been kept back from the cave and the hospital in Chiang Rai where the boys are believed to be under observation.

Night's relatives have said they believe the group went to the cave to celebrate his 16th birthday after a Saturday football practice and got caught as heavy rains caused the water inside the cave to suddenly rise.

A frantic rescue mission was hatched in the week since they were found.

Expert climbers, divers and Thai Navy Seals have mulled contingencies ranging from drilling an escape route through the mountain to waiting out the monsoon inside the cave.

But the rescue was prodded into action by the threat of a fresh round of rains and falling oxygen levels in the cave.

Photo: AFP

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES