Thailand Cave Rescue Updates: Good Weather, Tough Circumstances


[UPDATED at 6:10 a.m. Eastern, July 5]

They are the soccer team that has brought a polarized country together: 12 young boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, trapped in the vast and monsoon-flooded Tham Luang Cave network in northern Thailand since June 23.

Throughout the rescue operation, The New York Times is bringing you the latest updates and items of interest here, reported and compiled by our correspondents, visual journalists and editors.

• Officials are now deciding how, and when, to get the starvation-weakened team back out through treacherous, tight and flooded passages. None have ever used scuba gear, and at least some don’t know how to swim at all.

A break in the weather spurs talk of a quick rescue

On Thursday, the third straight day of relatively little rain at the cave complex raised speculation that Thai officials were considering a hurried evacuation attempt.

But several factors weighed against such a decision. Officials said the boys were still relatively weak, even after a few days of food and medicine. And very basic training for them in how to navigate cramped and flooded passageways, in unfamiliar breathing equipment, had only begun — in anticipation of a hazardous journey that would take hours even if successful.

Narongsak Osottanakorn, the commander of the search and rescue operation, said Thai officials were weighing their options as they monitored weather forecasts — some believed a storm was on the way — and had yet to decide on the best course.

“If it rains and the water volume increases, we have to calculate, how much time do we have? How many hours, how many days?” Mr. Narongsak said. “If the water increases, we will go back to where we were.”

The boys and their coach are being closely monitored and cared for by Thai Navy divers, who are also giving them some training to help them make it through the flooded passageways.

One foreign diver who helped find the boys said they did not know how to swim.

Some officials have advocated keeping the group in the cave for as long as four months, until the water level subsides. Others have argued for having experienced divers take them out of the cave complex much sooner.

Rescuers have prepared detailed plans and made their checklists, Mr. Narongsak said.

“How many sets of equipment needed? Thirteen sets,” he said. “How many people to assist? Two to one, three to one. Everything is planned. The ambulances are ready. But the plan for inside? Not everybody can go in. The hole is very narrow. Those are the obstacles.”

Meanwhile, teams continue to comb the mountain, looking for another way into the cave.

But not all has gone smoothly. Mr. Narongsak said that one volunteer team had inadvertently pumped water back into the cave. He did not say how much water was misdirected or how long it went on.

“They might have thought this was another way to bring the water out,” he told reporters.

— Muktita Suhartono and Richard C. Paddock, at the Tham Luang Cave

Her fields have been flooded, but she approves

Mae Bua Chaicheun, a rice farmer who lives near Tham Luang Cave, wanted to help in the search for the missing boys. So last week, she volunteered for five days at the rescue center, delivering drinking water to soldiers and helping clean up.

When she returned home to her village in the flatlands a few miles from the cave, she found that her fields were flooded with water that had been pumped from the caves in the effort to reach the 12 boys and their soccer coach.

She had already prepared the soil on her five acres and was about to plant rice. Now she has to start over.

But she is not concerned about that. Most importantly, the boys were found alive.

When she saw the news that the boys were found, she said she put her hands together in front of the TV and thanked Buddha.

“I had goose bumps,” she said.

She is one of dozens of farmers downstream from Tham Luang Cave whose fields have been flooded by the surplus water pumped out to reduce flood levels in the cavern.

The government is offering compensation to farmers whose land was flooded. In her case, that would have come to about $430, plus seed and fertilizer. But she said she didn’t want to add to the government’s burden in the midst of the search, and did not register.

“I am more than willing to have my rice fields flooded as long as the children are safe,” she said. “The boys are like my children.”

— Richard C. Paddock, in Nong Oo Village

Experience runs deep for British divers

The divers, Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, are members of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team, one of 15 such teams in the United Kingdom. And this isn’t the first time they’ve been flown to another country for a cave-rescue mission.

In 2004, Mr. Stanton, a retired firefighter from Coventry, was involved in the successful rescue in Mexico of six Britons who had been trapped in a cave for more than a week — one of the best-known cave rescues in recent history.

According to CoventryLive, a local news site, Mr. Stanton helped persuade one of the British men in Mexico, who was scared of water and had never dived before, to make a nearly 600-foot dive as part of the escape.

Six years later, Mr. Stanton and Mr. Volanthen, an information technology consultant, were flown to France in an attempt to rescue Eric Establie, a climber who had gone missing in a cave. They found his body about 3,000 feet from the entrance.

Queen Elizabeth II later made Mr. Stanton a Member of the Order of the British Empire, or M.B.E., “for services to local government.”

“I was very surprised,” he told a reporter after the award was announced in 2012. “People would say in jest that I should have got an M.B.E.,” he said, adding, “but it’s not something I have really thought about.”

— Mike Ives

In videos, doctor reassures the boys

Video clips taken by a Thai Navy SEAL member show the 12 boys and their soccer coach in the cave, looking skinny but seemingly healthy and in good spirits.

Divers reached them on Monday night and have been taking them food, medicine and other supplies as officials and diving experts try to figure out how to extract them from the Tham Luang Cave.

In one clip, the boys are sitting, some wrapped in space blankets, as Lt. Col. Dr. Phak Lohanchun, an army doctor who has SEAL training, puts disinfectant on their cuts.

Dr. Phak mentions the rigor of that training and, holding the disinfectant, tells the boys: “I had wounds all over my body. I couldn’t take a bath. To heal the wounds, I had to apply this all over.”

The diver taking the video says to a boy who appears to be one of the youngest, “Show me your smile.”

The boy smiles shyly and holds up two fingers.

In another video, the boys speak briefly in turn to the camera, giving their names and saying they are healthy.

“What do the 13 of you want to say to your fans?” the doctor asks. “Everybody in this world has been following your news.”

The videos were originally posted on the Facebook page of Forest Records, a Thai indie label that recorded a song by a band in which Dr. Phak performs. Two are also hosted on the Royal Thai Navy Facebook page.

— Muktita Suhartono and Richard C. Paddock, at the Tham Luang Cave

Caving experts see hope but obstacles in rescue

A Thai Navy captain has raised the possibility that, in the worst-case scenario, the 12 boys and their soccer coach could be in Tham Luang Cave until the end of the July-to-November rainy season.

Several experts say that it would be better to extract the group much sooner, and that several factors would work in rescuers’ favor. But they also acknowledge that any rescue would carry unavoidable risks.

Dinko Novosel, the president of the European Cave Rescue Association, said one positive factor is the Thai cave’s warm air temperature. Cold air was a risk, he noted, during the 2014 rescue of Johann Westhauser, who had been trapped nearly 4,000 feet below ground in Germany’s deepest cavern. (Mr. Westhauser was saved after more than 11 days in a rescue operation that required 728 people.)

Above all, Mr. Novosel said, he was confident that the rescue effort in Tham Luang Cave would succeed because the British divers involved are world-renowned specialists. “The British are best when there’s water in a cave,” he said in a telephone interview from Croatia.

But Chris Boardman, the national safeguarding officer for the British Caving Association, said a rescue would be “tricky” because divers would need to take diving equipment into the cave, teach the children how to use it and bring them out, one at a time, through flooded passages.

What’s more, Mr. Novosel said, a key to escaping from a narrow, flooded cave passage is an ability to conserve air and maintain one’s confidence and composure.

“These are kids, and they will probably be scared,” he said. “When a person is scared, he uses so much air. So this is delicate — very delicate.”

— Mike Ives

The coverage so far

JUNE 25: Divers are brought in to start a painstaking search through flooded passages.

JUNE 27: On Day 5, a portrait of the growing vigil as the odds worsen.

JUNE 28: Betting that the team has reached a dry cavern, officials consider drilling to lower supplies in from above.

JUNE 29: As obstacles pile up, the Thai prime minister assures families that the search won’t stop.

JULY 1: With huge water pumps helping, divers make significant progress in searching the cave.


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