Flooding complicates search for 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach trapped in cave for three days

The rescue effort hinges on pumping out water so divers have room to operate, said a high-level Thai official on the scene

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 12:47am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 10:30pm

Efforts to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been missing inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand for three days hinge on pumping out water so that navy divers have room to operate, the first high-level Thai official to visit the site said on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda told reporters that navy SEAL divers leading the search were handicapped by muddy water that has filled some chambers of the large cave to the ceilings.

He said the divers can proceed only when enough water is pumped out so there is space between the water and the ceiling to make it safer to work. The divers will also soon start using special oxygen tanks that provide longer diving times, he said.

A SEAL diver said the water was so murky that even with lights they could not see where they were going underwater. Anupong said rescuers would be working night and day in the dark cave.

About a dozen divers and other rescuers re-entered the cave on Tuesday morning to search for the boys, aged 11 to 16, who have been missing since their coach took them to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex on Saturday after a practice match. But the search had to be suspended again because of high water.

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Divers have been seeking a way forward through the chambers of the cave complex, but have been forced to suspend their search several times. The authorities are also seeking alternative ways in, using helicopters and search parties on foot to find possible holes in the ceilings of other parts of the cave.

A glimmer of hope was dashed on Tuesday afternoon after explorers found two fissures in the rock on the mountain in which the cave is located. After evaluation, experts found neither could be used as a “chimney” to gain access to the cave.

Rain that fell overnight increased the difficulty of exploring inside the cave. However, the initial chambers near the cave’s entrance are dry, and a power line was extended inside to provide light and ventilation and help the divers communicate with those outside.

The boys and their 25-year-old coach entered the cave in Chiang Rai province late Saturday afternoon. A mother reported that her son did not return from soccer practice that day, setting off the search.

Relatives of the boys were joined by others on Tuesday morning to perform a ritual calling for those who are missing.

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They played drums and gongs and two relatives held fishing nets as symbols to fish out lost spirits from the cave. Organiser Jiratat Kodyee said the ritual was a traditional way of showing support for the boys’ families.

Authorities have said that footprints and handprints were found inside the cave complex, and that tourists trapped there by past floods have been rescued after the waters receded.