Rescue workers assisted by Thai navy SEALs started teaching some members of a young soccer team and their coach how to swim and dive Wednesday, nearly two weeks after they became trapped in a cave in northern Thailand.
The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach, have been stranded deep inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province for 12 days. They disappeared when they went exploring after a soccer game June 23 and were found by rescue divers late Monday.
But risky conditions including volatile water levels, challenging terrain and heavy rains forecast for the weekend have complicated plans to safely extract them.
Some of the boys do not know how to swim and flooding in the caves means the boys would likely have to dive to be able to escape, which rescue experts say could be extremely dangerous, especially for people with no experience with scuba gear.
New video released by Thailand’s Navy Seals shows 12 boys and their coach, stuck in a flooded cave. Authorities say the group is relatively healthy and getting food. Officials are deciding how to get them out. (July 4) AP
Thai media reported the boys have been practicing using dive masks and other equipment but have not yet tried them out in water.
“The water is very strong and space is narrow. Extracting the children takes a lot of people,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters in Thailand on Wednesday. “Now we are teaching the children to swim and dive,” he said.
He added if the high water levels fell, the team would be taken out quickly.
The British divers who found the squad said it took three hours to reach them, as they faced fast-moving currents and had to pull themselves along cave walls.
The boys and their coach were trapped in the cave by a sudden influx of water.
Rescuers found a Thai youth soccer team alive in a cave after the 12 boys and coach went missing for over a week. USA TODAY
Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, the Thai official overseeing the rescue operation, said Wednesday that “all 13 may not come out at the same time. If the condition is right and if that person is ready 100%, he can come out.”
But Narongsak said rescue teams are still looking for other ways to rescue the boys, such as locating alternative routes into the cave’s network of narrow passageways.
Some cave rescue experts have said it would be safer to keep the team supplied with essential food and medicine where they are for now and wait for the water levels to recede. However, that approach could take months, as Thailand’s monsoon season usually lasts through October.
It’s also possible that conditions inside the cave could change. The boys are taking shelter on a ledge surrounded by water more than a mile from the cave’s main entrance, and about half a mile below the surface.
Still, the boys and their coach reported they were in good health in a brief video released Wednesday on the Thai navy SEALs Facebook page.
The SEALs, including medics, are staying with the team inside the cave and the boys are mostly in a stable condition after having received high-protein drinks.
The one-minute video shows the team together with the SEALs inside the darkened cave. While the boys are visibly thin, they appear to be in good spirits as they introduce themselves one-by-one to the camera.
In the video, as a light is shone on each boy’s face they address the camera with head bowed and hands clasped together in a Thai prayer-like greeting known as “wai.”
A few of the boys appear to be wearing soccer jerseys from international teams. One of them resembles the one worn by the England soccer squad in its Tuesday night World Cup victory over Colombia in Moscow.
At one point in the video, the boys laugh in response to an apparent joke made by a member of the rescue team. Experts have said that looking after the boys’ mental health will be key to ensuring they are able to safely take part in any rescue plan.
Thai authorities said they are working to install an Internet cable to the cave so that the parents of the boys can talk to their children.
“It’s like he has been given a new life,” Kian Kamluang, whose 16-year-old son Pornchai is inside the cave, told the Associated Press. She said she’ll never let her son go into a cave or near water again.
The longest time anyone has survived while trapped underground is 69 days, according to Guinness World Records. In that incident, all 33 Chilean miners — known as the “33 of San Jose” — made it safely back to the surface via a rescue capsule after they were trapped 2,257 ft below the surface after the collapse of a mine near Copiapo, Chile, in August 2010. The gold-copper mine collapsed after an earthquake.
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