BOYS AND COACH OF THAI FOOTBALL TEAM FOUND TRAPPED IN CAVE AFTER 9 DAYSDate: 2018-07-03
There was a collective sigh of relief and screams of joy as the news broke that the twelve boys and their football coach trapped in a Thai cave were found alive.
Their story isn't over yet, though, as they will either need to learn to dive or wait months for flooding to recede before they can get out.
Divers found the group late on Monday on a small dry ledge about 4km (2.5 miles) from the mouth of the cave, after being missing for nine days. Rescuers are now battling rising water to bring more supplies to the group and, according to the military, they may need to have food sent in to last at least the next four months.
Chiang Rai Governor, Narongsak Osotthanakon, said that attempts are being made to install power and telephone lines inside the cave to let the boys speak with their parents.
After the initial news broke of the missing group and calls for assistance in the hunt, two British rescuer divers flew over to join the search operation, finding the boys on Monday night.
Thai navy special forces posted the video of that first contact to Facebook. The group is seen by torchlight sitting on a ledge above water, responding to the divers that all 13 were there. They said they were very hungry, asked how long they have been underground, and whether they can leave now. The divers respond, telling them they have to wait and that many more people will come back for them.
One boy replies: "Oh. See you tomorrow."
The search for the group had seized the attention of the country as no one was sure where they were or whether they even were still alive. The families of the missing group were ecstatic at the news of their discovery.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach went missing on 23 June. Speculation is that they entered the cave when it was dry and sudden heavy rains blocked the exit as rushing waters clogged the narrow passages with mud and debris, blocking visibility and access.
According to the divers, one of the toughest stretches came as they neared an elevated mound in the cave complex called Pattaya Beach where it was hoped the boys had sought refuge. Navigating a series of sharp, narrow bends in near-darkness was complex and, after they completed the difficult journey, they found Pattaya Beach flooded. They continued to swim further and found the boys about 400m away.
How can they get out?
The Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand is regularly flooded during the rainy season which lasts until September or October and it will be an extremely dangerous task to bring the trapped boys to safety given the conditions inside.
If the children are to be brought out safely before the rainy season is over, they will have to learn basic diving skills. But experts have cautioned that taking inexperienced divers through the dangerous corridors of muddy, zero-visibility waters would be very risky.
Authorities said there have been unsuccessful attempts to pump the water levels lower and, if they are to wait until the water recedes by itself, the group will have to stay in the cave for months with food and supplies continuously supplied to them.
According to the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head, the Thai military had a few specially trained doctors with the diving skills required to go in to carry out medical checks in the coming days to establish their condition and treat possible injuries.
"But even when they recover their strength, pulling them back through miles of partly flooded tunnels will be a daunting challenge. And the rainy season has just started here – water levels will rise," he said.
Other teams are still scouring the mountainside in the hope of finding another way into the cave.
Who are they?
The BBC also reported, "the 12 boys are all members of a local football team and their coach is known to have taken them on occasional excursions and field trips".
Tinnakorn Boonpiem, whose 12-year-old son Mongkol is among the 13, told AFP news agency near the caves she was "so glad" to hear they were safe.
"I want him to be physically and mentally fit," she said.
As tears of joy streamed down his cheeks, another relative of one of the group told reporters, "I'm so happy I can't put it into words".