Rescuers in Thailand are racing against the rains to free 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. A deluge is expected to hit in a matter of days and could force the water level up, threatening to flood the pocket where the group has taken refuge. The boys, aged 11-16, and their coach have been trapped since 23 June. They are believed to have entered the cave when it was dry, before sudden heavy rains blocked the exit. The group was found on Monday night by two British rescuer divers, on a rock shelf about 4km (2.5 miles) from the mouth of the cave. The region of Chiang Rai where the boys are trapped has for the past few days experienced a dry spell, but the expected turn in the weather may force rescuers to rush their plans.
“We are racing against time before we found them,” Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn said at a press conference on Thursday morning. “Now we are racing against water.” Mr Narongsak also said telephone lines were being installed in the cave, so the boys could speak to their families, though the line has yet to reach the boys. A new phone is being taken into the cave, after a previous device fell into the water and stopped working. Bill Whitehouse from the British Cave Rescue Council explains how the boys and their coach might be rescued If the rain stops for long enough, there is a possibility that the group could walk out of the Tham Luang cave complex, or be floated out rather than having to dive.
The total journey from the cave’s entrance to the trapped group currently takes a total of 11 hours – six hours in and five hours back out. Many of the boys can’t swim, and all will have to be taught basic diving skills if they are to leave that way.Rescue teams are working in extremely difficult conditions. The heat has been sweltering and unrelenting, at over 30C, while much of the site is submerged in squelchy mud that is several inches thick in places and extremely slippery. But the work has continued at an unrelenting pace. Everyone is aware that once the monsoon rains start, rescue efforts will be much more difficult.
Meanwhile, hundreds of workers are helping to keep the site in order, with road engineers laying gravel to try and secure the mud, workers for the Thai royal kitchen providing hot food for everyone, and volunteers handing out water bottles and ice lollies to those on site. One local civil servant, who had volunteered to help hand out supplies, said he did not know the boys personally but had decided to help because “I consider the boys in the caves as my brothers”. The Thai military has previously said that if the boys can’t dive out, the group may have to wait for up to four months for flooding to recede before they can leave. Food and other supplies are being put in place for that eventuality.
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda later stressed the urgency of the evacuation, adding that rain was forecast “in the next few days”, the Bangkok Post reported. Attempts are being made to reduce the risk of further flooding by pumping water from the cave system, Mr Anupong said. Water levels have dropped by more than 40cm (15in) since Wednesday, with rescue workers now able to walk through a 1.5km (0.9 mile) stretch from the entrance to what’s being called the third chamber. About 128 million litres of water had been pumped out by Thursday, with the water levels coming down at an average rate of 1.5cm per hour.
The cave complex is regularly flooded during the rainy season which lasts until September or October.