Missing Thai soccer team found alive but can’t be rescued yet

By @chelean on
Boys from an under-16 soccer team and their coach wait to be rescued after they were trapped inside a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 3, 2018, in this still image taken from a Thai Navy Seal handout video.
Boys from an under-16 soccer team and their coach wait to be rescued after they were trapped inside a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 3, 2018, in this still image taken from a Thai Navy Seal handout video. Thai Navy Seal Facebook/Handout via Reuters

The missing soccer team and their coach in Thailand have been found alive in an underwater cave, but they may be stuck there for long months. The group of 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have been missing for 10 days.

The group went missing on June 23 after the monsoon rains trapped them inside a cave. It is believed that they have gone on an excursion with their coach after a football training. They might have crawled into the 10km cave system before monsoon rains flooded the caves, trapping them inside.

A family member looks at a photo near Tham Luang cave complex, as members of under-16 soccer team and their coach A family member looks at a photo near Tham Luang cave complex, as members of under-16 soccer team and their coach have been found alive according to a local media's report in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018.  Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018.  Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

They were discovered late Monday in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, near by the border with Myanmar. They were found sheltering on a mud bank about two metres above the water level, the Guardian reports, hence it appears they have climbed to higher grounds as water levels increased. Divers who approached the group said two boys have “minor injuries,” but the last assessment was they were all in better condition after they were given supplies.

Cave rescue experts have warned that any attempts to extract the boys extra while water conditions remain high could be “unbelievably dangerous” to both the group and their rescuers. The boys and their coach were sent food and medical supplies, including high-calorie gels, instead. Rescuers predict that they might be left in the case for at least four months, and so the supplies should be continuously handed to them.

As cave-diving is a very risky activity, doubly so for underaged boys who are weakened and have no diving experience, experts said the best option is to stabilise their environment. The group are also being trained to dive while they wait for the water to drain to manageable levels. There were also efforts to pump water out of the cave network, with 10,000 litres of water removed per hour. However, heavy rains are expected to return the next day.

Journalists work in Tham Luang Journalists work in Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018.  Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun Rescue teams are seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an Under 16 soccer team Rescue teams are seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an Under 16 soccer team were trapped in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018.  Reuters/Stringer

Butch Hendricks, a veteran rescue diver and president of Lifeguard Systems in the US, has explained to Guardian why the boys cannot be moved yet, saying none of the boys can swim. If they could, they would be put into equipment they can breathe with and a full-face mask. They also need custom wetsuits. And because the cave network has narrow passages, only one boy can be brought out at a time.

“If a problem occurs in that passageway, we’ve going to have a stall, then they will have a back-up, which could cause life and death.”

The rescue team is composed of local and international group of divers, including the British divers leading the mission, volunteer cave divers Richard Stanton and John Volanten, who are believed to be the first to locate the missing boys.

British divers Robert Charles Harper and John Volanthen chat with Thailand military officer British divers Robert Charles Harper and John Volanthen chat with Thailand military officer (not pictured) near the Tham Luang cave complex, as members of under-16 soccer team and their coach have been found alive according to a local media's report, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018.  Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun