Monday 27 May 2019

Divers prepare to push forward in Thai cave rescue

Twelve boy aged 11 to 16 and a 25-year-old football coach are trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave.

Thai rescue teams walk inside cave complex ((Tham Luang Rescue Operation Centre via AP))
Thai rescue teams walk inside cave complex ((Tham Luang Rescue Operation Centre via AP))

By Tassanee Vejpongsa, Associated Press

Divers have spent hours preparing for what is hoped will be a final push in their search for 12 boys and their football coach who have been missing for more than a week in a cave in northern Thailand.

Chiang Rai provincial governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said the divers concentrated on securing a rope line and placing oxygen tanks along the narrow passageway they think will lead them to the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, who disappeared when flooding trapped them after entering Tham Luang Nang Non cave on June 23.

Thai navy divers and rescue workers from other countries made initial progress through the narrow passageway early on Monday after passing through a key chamber on Sunday whose high, murky waters had previously blocked their progress.

Thai police stand in front of the entrance to the cave complex (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

Mr Narongsak said the passageway the divers were making their way through goes upwards in some places and downwards in others and is extremely narrow, making it difficult for divers to fit through with all their gear.

They have been repeatedly blocked by rising water that has filled sections of the cave and forced them to withdraw for safety reasons. When water levels dropped on Sunday, the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way.

The navy divers’ Facebook page said that since Sunday night, the divers had reached a bend where the half-mile passage splits in two directions. The divers are aiming for a sandy chamber on higher ground in the cave, where they believe the group would be safe.

Thai soldiers searching for the missing children and their coach march out of Tham Luang Nang Non cave (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

On Monday, they were again employing the methodical, safety-first approach to make it through the passageway.

Public anticipation for a rescue has been high since Sunday, but officials have avoided setting a timetable for the search and rescue operation, although they remain publicly optimistic.

“In theory, human beings can last 30 days (without food),” Mr Narongsak told reporters. “We hope and believe that is the case. We all still have hope.”

Relatives pray for a safe rescue (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

He said it was expected that in their condition, the boys would at first not be able to move their limbs, but medical teams would initially treat them in place. He said the diving teams included doctors who were already inside the cave.

Teams have been working to pump out water as well as divert groundwater. Other efforts have focused on finding shafts on the mountainside that might serve as a back door to the blocked-off areas where the missing may be sheltering.

Teams have been combing the mountainside looking for fissure that might lead to such shafts. Several have been found and explorers have been able to descend into some, but so far it is not clear whether they lead anywhere useful.

Press Association

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