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Thailand

Thai cave boys to get four months of food and diving lessons as focus shifts to tricky rescue

Options being considered include waiting until water levels subside, or teaching the group to use diving gear to navigate the flooded cave

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 9:42am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 10:42am

Twelve boys and their soccer coach found alive in a Thai cave will be supplied with four months’ worth of food and get diving training, the military said, as focus shifted to the tricky task of evacuating the group from the complex underground system.

The boys aged between 11 and 16, were discovered with their 25-year-old coach late Monday, rake thin but alive, huddled on a ledge deep inside a flooded cave nine days after they became trapped in a pitch black cave hemmed by rising floodwaters.

Much-needed food and medical supplies – including high-calorie gels and paracetamol – reached them Tuesday as rescuers prepared for the possibility that they may be there for some time.

Alive: how one word lifted Thailand from the depths of despair

“[We will] prepare to send additional food to be sustained for at least four months and train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water,” Navy Captain Anand Surawan said, according to a statement from Thailand’s Armed Forces.

The miracle rescue sparked jubilation across the country after a gruelling operation beset by heavy downpours and flash flooding.

“We called this mission impossible because it rained every day … but with our determination and equipment we fought nature,” Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said Tuesday.

“The doctor advised that we should provide several kind of medicine to prevent infection and other illness,” adding that medics had reached the young soccer players.

How the Thailand cave rescue efforts unfolded

The boys were found late Monday by British divers, with footage showing them emaciated and huddled on a mud mound deep inside the cave.

The boys went missing with the 25-year-old after soccer practice on June 23 after they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in a forest park near Thailand’s northern border with Myanmar.

“If you ask me now while we are still assessing all sides then I don’t think they will be home soon,” Narongsak said.

The group’s health was assessed overnight by medical teams which will continue to check the health of the group on Monday, said Narongsak, explaining that the boys had sustained light injuries.

“We categorised their health condition as red, yellow or green, red being the most severe injuries, yellow being mild and green being light. Yesterday, unofficially, we assessed that most are in the green category,” Narongsak said.

Seal commander Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yookongkaew said Tuesday that seven members of his unit – including a doctor and a nurse – were now with the 12 boys and their coach in the cave.

He said his team members “have given the boys food, starting from easily digested and high-powered food with enough minerals”.

Anmar Mirza, a leading American cave rescue expert, said many challenges remain for the rescuers. He said the primary decision was whether to try to evacuate the boys and their coach or to supply them in place.

“Supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are,” Mirza, coordinator of the US National Cave Rescue Commission, said in an email.

“Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy. That also begets the question: If the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater.”

Narongsak said officials had met and agreed on the need to “ensure 100 per cent safety for the boys when we bring them out”.

“We worked so hard to find them and we will not lose them,” he said.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers who helped locate the missing for their “tremendous efforts”.

“The Royal Thai government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and cooperation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery,” Prayuth’s office said in a statement.

The rescuers had been stymied repeatedly by rising water that forced divers to withdraw for safety reasons.

When water levels fell on Sunday, the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way.

Teams have also been working to pump water out of the cave and divert groundwater, while other rescuers focused on exploring shafts above ground that might lead into the cave.

Several fissures were found and teams have explored some, though none led to the missing group.

Experts in cave rescues from around the world had gathered at the site.

An official Australian group has followed a US military team, British cave experts, Chinese life saving responders and several other volunteer groups from various countries.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press