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War against time and water to free trapped boys from Thai cave

July 07, 2018 12:50 IST
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Thai officials ruled out any immediate attempts to evacuate 12 football players and their coach trapped deep inside a system of caves in northern Thailand on Saturday despite concerns over low oxygen levels underground and poor weather forecasts. 

IMAGE: Hundreds of rescuers with equipment continue the rescue operation at the Tham Luang Nang Non cave. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

“No, not today,” Narongsak Osottanakorn, the governor of Chiang Rai province, said on Saturday after being pressed by reporters on rescue efforts. 

A team of Thai Navy SEALS, soldiers, police and volunteers has been working frantically to drain the cave since the group was discovered on Monday. 


They are now teaching the children, aged between 11 and 16 and not all of whom are strong swimmers, to attempt a treacherous dive through narrow, submerged tunnels. 

IMAGE: Thai military bring water pumps to the cave on July 6, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Rescue teams have been pumping millions of litres of water from the cave in an attempt drain the cave but the impending weekend rains threaten to undermine the work. Photograph: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

Officials are considering a rescue plan involving a “buddy dive” -- where an experienced adult diver would swim with each boy -- to evacuate the team members, according to a US official familiar with the joint rescue operation. 

On Friday, Thai Navy SEAL chief Rear Admiral Aphakorn Yoo-kongkaew said oxygen levels in the cave had dropped to 15 per cent, a level that one Thai medic said posed a serious risk of hypoxia, the same condition that causes altitude sickness. 

IMAGE: Thai navy Seals provide a view of the caves as they struggle to get the boys out. Officials have considered a “buddy dive” -- where an experienced adult diver would swim with each boy -- to evacuate the team members, according to a US official familiar with the joint rescue operation. Photograph: Thai Navy Seals/Facebook

Governor Osottanakorn was quoted as telling the media that “air is a major issue,” but added that UK experts had confirmed the conditions in the chamber where the children are located were “all right.”

“The kids are still are able to walk around, play around comfortably,” he said. “If (there is) heavy rain and the situation is not good, we will try.”

IMAGE: Military personnel are seen in front of the Tham Luang cave, where 12 boys and their soccer coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Ivan Katadzic, a Danish diving instructor who has been ferrying oxygen tanks into the cave, said to Reuters after a dive on Friday he was “double positive” about the mission because the water level had dropped considerably. 

Alternative rescue plans include stocking the cave with supplies and an oxygen line to keep the boys alive for months until Thailand’s monsoon season ends, or drilling a shaft down from the forest above.

IMAGE: A group of people from Tachileik, Myanmar come to the entrance of Tham Luang Nang Non cave and pray for a successful rescue for the 12 trapped children and their coach. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

Besides looking for possible holes from above, the team on the hill above is trying to block holes and divert streams that channel water into the cave before the weather turns. 

Growing international interest in the rescue has spurred help from countries such as Australia, Britain, China, Japan and the United States, among others.

The president of soccer’s governing body, FIFA, has invited the boys to be his guests at the World Cup Final in Moscow on July 15 if they make it out in time. 

Don’t worry about us, say boys stranded in Thai cave

Heart melting notes scribbled by some of the stranded boys and their football coach from inside a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand were posted on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page on Saturday morning.

Some of the notes read, “Father and mother, please don’t worry about me. I am fine. Please take me to eat fried chicken after this. I love you.”

“I love you mom and dad and I want to eat pork shabu,” said another noted, reports The Straits Times.

“I love father and mother. Don’t worry about me. I’m safe now.”

“I’m fine. It’s a little cold here.”

“Don’t worry about us now. I miss everyone and I want to go home quickly.”

On a related note, the soccer coach trapped in a cave with the 12 boys apologised to their parents in the first letter he and the team have sent out through divers.

“To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologise to the parents,” wrote 25-year-old Ekapol Chanthawong, the coach of the Wild Boars soccer team.

-- ANI and Agencies

Image: One of the notes from the boys to their parents sent out by the divers. Photograph: Thai Navy Seal/Facebook

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