Tuesday 21 May 2019

Boys trapped in Thai cave are being trained to dive to freedom

A diver carries his equipment as he heads into the Tham Luang cave complex
A diver carries his equipment as he heads into the Tham Luang cave complex
Divers negotiate the treacherous flooded cave

Nicola Smith

Thai navy Seals are racing to train 12 young boys and their football coach trapped in a cave how to scuba-dive before the arrival of monsoon rains that could force an emergency evacuation.

The group has been trapped in a vast cave complex for almost two weeks, and experts are assessing how they will get them out.

Rescue teams are reported to be contemplating a risky rapid extraction, possibly as soon as today, before heavy rains set in, potentially causing further flooding through the already submerged chambers of the 10km-long cave in Thailand's northern Chiang Rai province.

High-pressure pumps were used yesterday to drain water from the cave, while navy Seals stayed with the boys to give them first aid, swimming and diving lessons, and to keep their spirits up.

A video released yesterday showed Lt Col Dr Phak Lohanchun applying disinfectant to minor wounds on emaciated boys wrapped in foil blankets inside the cave.

"Show me your smile," he says to one of the younger children, as some of the boys state their name and say they are in good health.

Meanwhile, engineers laid a fibre-optic cable through the labyrinthian Tham Luang cave to allow the boys to speak to their families for the first time since their ordeal began 11 days ago on June 23. It is an important psychological booster before either a perilous journey through 6km of underwater passageways, or the prospect of having to sit out the monsoon rains for weeks or even months, to allow the floodwaters to subside.

The boys' camaraderie is also believed to have been an important factor in ensuring their survival so far.

Throughout their ordeal, they have been in the care of Ekkapol Chantawong (25), the assistant coach of their Wild Boars football team, who is reported to be "very dedicated" to their well-being.

Nopparat Kathawong, the head coach, said the children were "very close" after training together for years, and that they had formed a "successful team" through their love of football.

Mr Kathawong had been forced to miss their training session on the day they disappeared as he was performing official duties at his village.

He speculated that they may have entered the cave to cool off after being "hot and tired" from their game.

Last week, before their discovery, he expressed regret that he had not been there to help them. "I feel really sad that they're lost. I can't close my eyes to go to sleep," he admitted.

After the elation of the boys' discovery on Monday evening, by Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, the British diving pair, the Thai-led multinational rescue team has been focused on the safest way to bring the boys home.

According to a report in 'The Australian' newspaper, navy Seals may attempt to bring the boys out today, after good weather yesterday allowed fast-water currents inside the cave to ease to a standstill.

Conditions were currently as good as they are likely to get, officials told the Sydney-based newspaper.

Engineers are reportedly attempting to widen bottlenecks in the escape route to allow the Seals to accompany the children throughout the journey.

However, diving experts still stress the acute dangers in attempting to extract children, some of whom cannot even swim, in treacherous conditions. Some of the experts maintain that the best strategy would be to supply them with food, clean water and warm clothes inside the cave for the time being.

Ruangrit Changkwanyuen, a local diver assisting with the rescue efforts said the level of water yesterday was "much better". But he stressed that the children would have "a lot of techniques to learn" before attempting the dive.

He said: "The rescuers are figuring out which option is the best for the kids and diving out is one option.

"But the possibility is also if they can pump out the water so much that maybe they can dive for a short period and then they float out, and then they can walk." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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