Though rescue teams on Monday finally reached the coach and 12 members of a youth soccer team trapped for more than a week in a Thailand cave, authorities are still searching for a way to free the group.
The team of boys – ranging in ages from 11 to 16 years old – and their 25-year-old coach were found alive in northern Chiang Rai province and are in mostly stable condition after being missing for 10 days, officials said. The stranded group has received high-protein liquid food since they were found.
The search for the boys and their coach garnered international attention. But with heavy rains forecast in the coming days, the onslaught could worsen the flooding where the team is trapped, making rescue efforts complicated.
Navy commander-in-chief Naris Pratoomsuwan has warned “helping the kids will take time.” He said it had taken rescue officials three hours just to reach the place where the group was found, Reuters reported.
Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said a Navy SEAL team will make the final call on the evacuation method.
Read on for a look at some possible options to extract the team.
The soccer team may have to swim out using diving equipment before the bad weather hits, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda told The Associated Press. The team would use diving gear and be guided by multiple expert divers, he said.
However, Anupong warned this option could become tricky.
“Diving is not easy. For people who have never done it, it will be difficult, unlike diving in a swimming pool, because the cave’s features have small channels,” he said. “If something happens midway, it could be life-threatening.”
Anmar Mirza, an American cave rescue expert, added: “Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy.”
The British Cave Rescue Council, which has members taking part in the operation, said in a statement that “although water levels have dropped, the diving conditions remain difficult and any attempt" to teach diving to the boys and their coach "will not be taken lightly."
A safer alternative to a risky swim might be to ensure the team has necessary supplies instead of having them swim out, cave rescue experts have said. However, given Thailand’s rainy season can last until October, this might take months – and rising water levels could complicate further rescue and supply efforts.
Rescuers have been in a rush to drain as much water as possible from the cave ahead of more heavy rainfall.
Drill, baby, drill
Authorities have said teams are scouring the mountainside in search of other potential entrances to the caverns where the team is trapped – possibly providing another way out.
While multiple fissures have been found and explored by experts, none so far have led to the trapped team. Deputy national police chief Wirachai Songmetta has said experts will continue to search for new ways in with equipment from a geological department.
Backhoes and drilling equipment have been sent to the mountain, but locating the trapped team would be an arduous process. The British Cave Rescue Council said the team is “located in a relatively small space and this would make any potential drilling attempt as a means of rescue very difficult.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.