The attempted rescue of a dozen boys and their soccer coach after a heavy rainstorm flooded the entrance to a popular cave in Thailand has turned into a hunt for another entrance, as U.S. military and British cave expects joined the search on Thursday.
Heavy rain has hampered the search and some of the rescue divers have been forced to turn back after floodwater seeped into a second chamber of the caves, five days after the group was reported missing.
"There's not much we can do right now," Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda told reporters. "We have to wait for the water level to decrease. (Divers) can't do anything right now."
The setback in the search due to rising water levels comes as Thai rescuers have been joined by a U.S. military team and British cave experts. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said 30 members of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) have joined the search operation, according to Reuters.
Tony Haigh, the British Cave Rescue Council's communications officer, told Sky News that divers are used to diving in the challenging conditions found in many U.K. caves, and can conduct dives in low visibility conditions and in small passages.
The cave complex extends several miles and has wide chambers and narrow passageways with rocky outcrops and changes in elevation. Still, officials have said they are hopeful the boys found a safe space away from the floods.
The chamber is about 2.5 miles from the entrance of the cave, which is thought to be about 4-5 miles long and cut into a mountainside in far northern Thailand near the border with Myanmar.
Deputy national police Chief Wirachai Songmetta told the Associated Press he would join more than 600 rescuers above ground scouring a mountainside trying to find shafts that might be possible entrances into the cave.
"We won't give up. That's the key here," he said as he got into a vehicle that was part of a convoy carrying rescuers.
Some parents of the missing children have been spending the nights in tents outside the cave entrance as the rain poured.
On Thursday morning, a Buddhist monk led a prayer for a small group of relatives waiting outside for any news.
“Observe your breath in this place of love. Love between mother, father and child,” the monk told relatives outside, according to Reuters. “Do not worry and wait for good news.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.