Trapped Soccer Team Could Be Stuck For Months, Will Be Trained To Dive
The under-16s team and their coach have been found some 4km into the cave's networks.
It was the moment a country had waited for: ten days after they first went missing, twelve members of a Thai soccer team and their coach were found alive.
"How many of you are there?" asked one of two volunteer members of a British rescue team, popping his head out of water and seeing the young boys huddled on an elevated rock inside the flooded cave.
"13? Brilliant. You have been here 10 days. You are very strong."
But while families and rescue workers could breathe a sigh of relief at finding all 13 missing people alive, getting them out of the cave will be tricky.
How did they get trapped?
It's estimated that the Wild Boar team are about four kilometres into the cave, and somewhere between 800 metres to one kilometre below the surface.
The team and their coach entered the popular Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex in the Chiang Rai on Saturday June 22, becoming trapped when the sudden and continuous monsoon downpour caused the caves to flood.
The area is prone for seasonal flooding, and indeed rising flood waters caused the search to be suspended for two days.
The boys had left bicycles, backpacks and football kits at the entrance to the cave, which became a point of vigil for their families.
Thankfully, the boys are largely in good health despite being trapped for ten days.
“We categorized 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,” said Hiang Rai governor Narongsak Osattanakorn.
Rescue effort could take months
Rescue teams are now facing a difficult choice: teach the boys how to dive the complex cave system, or wait for the flood waters to go down, which could take months.
"If you ask me now while we are still assessing all sides then I don't think they will be home soon," said Osattanakorn.
The British Cave Rescue Council, which is providing assistance to the international rescue operation, said that they believe the short break in the monsoon that allowed the divers to continue their search is temporary.
"We believe that there is only a short break in the monsoon and all feasible options for the rescue of the boys are being considered. Although water levels have dropped, the diving conditions remain difficult and any attempt to dive the boys and their coach out will not be taken lightly because there are significant technical challenges and risks to consider."
Drilling directly into the air pocket is also "very difficult" due to the small space the boys are in.
What happens now?
Diving lines have been laid to the boys' location to allow for food, supplies and comforts to be sent in, which are set to last for four months.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, will also be trained to dive as rescue teams assess the best way to extract them.
"[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," said Navy Captain Anand Surawan, Thailand's Armed Forces is being reported as saying.
A team of six Australian rescue divers is on the ground in Thailand assisting in the rescue efforts.
Alan Warild from NSW Cave Rescue told Ten Eyewitness News that even if the boys were trained to dive, it would take an enormous amount of confidence and bravery on their part to get through the cave networks.
"If you can imagine, it's like closing your eyes in black water, it's not pleasant at all," he said.
"You're doing everything by feel. Even if you've got limited air, you need someone tugging on a rope telling you how long you've been in there, because you can't even see your watch, let alone the direction you're moving in. It is a horrendous thing.
"Those environments are horrendously difficult. Even to come through a squeeze hole, under the water, you can imagine closing your eyes, trusting someone, pulling you through where you're coming obstructed... It would be just the ultimate willpower not to panic."