Mission impossible to rescue ‘rake thin’ Thai schoolboys trapped in flooded cave as they face FOUR-MONTH wait or a deadly dive as last resort

British rescuers were the first to reach schoolboy footballers last night after struggling through narrow passages and murky waters of the Tham Luang cave network in Chiang Rai.

Now efforts are turning towards how best to get the kids out of the cave network – with a dramatic dive extraction being considered the quickest, but most dangerous, way to save them.

Footage yesterday emerged of two Brit rescue divers finding the terrified boys cowering in a darkened chamber inside the caves.

The group appeared exhausted, rake thin and sensitive to the light, with some speaking faltering English to try to communicate with their saviours.

There are now discussions about teaching the kids to dive then using Navy SEAL divers to escort them out of the cave one-by-one.


What we know so far

  • The football team made up of 12 boys aged between 11 and 16 and their coach ran into trouble on 23 June.
  • They were visiting the cave network in Chiang Rai when monsoon rains trapped them deep inside it.
  • They were found safe last night by British divers, who discovered them huddled together on a ledge.
  • They are all in reasonable health – one diver said they were "very weak, but alive".
  • The military is sending in provisions to last them up to four months while they assess rescue options.
  • One option includes teaching the kids to dive, but this is be highly dangerous as none of the boys can even swim.
  • The safest option is for them to walk out but this is impossible due to floodwater blocking sections of the route.
  • Explorers are also traversing the mountaintops looking for alternative entrances which could be drilled open.


However, this is fraught with difficulty. None of the boys can swim, while diving requires mental fortitude and panicking when swimming – often in pitch black conditions – can be deadly.

Bill Whitehouse, from the British Cave Rescue Council which is helping with the rescue, told BBC Radio 4 the diving option was "certainly not easy".

He added: "The other alternative is that you literally bring them out in packages. In other words you fit them with diving equipment: a full face mask, instead of having a gag in your mouth like a lot of divers use; package them up; put the correct weights on them so that they are neutrally buoyant and are not going to get stuck again."

They have been given energy gels to sustain them while a plan is worked out, but rescuers say right now they are "too weak to climb" and "unable to swim".

Getting them correctly fed is now crucial to any rescue attempt – people deprived of food can suffer heart failure if not reintroduced to food correctly – and they are all lacking energy.

Other options include waiting for the monsoon season to end and having the group walk out, or trying to drill a rescue tunnel from above into the section of cave they are in.

But Ben Reymenants, a Belgian diver who is part of the rescue team, told BBC Newsnight: "Time is not on our side – we're expecting heavy rain in three days.

"If the cave system would flood it would make the access impossible to the kids."

Rescuers have been consistently trying to pump water out of the cave network since the boys became trapped. Five days ago they punched a hole into the side of the mountain in a desperate but ultimately fruitless attempt to drain it.

Two volunteer Navy SEAL doctors have now sacrificed themselves and offered to stay with the kids for up to three to four months until the water subsides, or they're rescued.

The group's health was assessed overnight by medical teams and they were found to have sustained light injuries, but all were in good general health.

The boys and their football coach were found late on Monday night on an elevated rock about 2.5 miles from the mouth of the cave.

A video shot by rescuers in flickering torchlight revealed boys clad in shorts and red and blue shirts sitting or standing on the rock above an expanse of water.

A member of the multinational rescue team, speaking in English, can be heard telling the boys: "How many of you are there – 13? Brilliant.

"You have been here 10 days. You are very strong."

One of the boys replies: "Thank you."

Another asks when they will get out of the cave, to which the rescuer answers: "Not today. You have to dive."

Brits John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, were first to reach the boys, having had strong experience in cave rescues, according to Bill Whitehouse, of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC).


As reported, they flew out along with Robert Harper, who also took part, and are from Derbyshire Cave Rescue.

They found the group along with a team of Thai Navy SEAL divers.

When asked by one of the bewildered boys about where they came from, one of them replied: "England, the UK."

Rescuers had been focusing on an elevated mound, which cavers have named Pattaya Beach, in the cave complex's third chamber, knowing that it could have provided the boys with a refuge when rains flooded the cave.

Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said: "The SEALs reported that … they reached Pattaya Beach which was flooded.


"So they went 400 metres further where we found the 13 … who were safe."

The boys survival was greeted with jubilation nationwide by Thais who have followed every twist of the harrowing story.

Relatives of the boys, who have been at a shelter near the cave hoping for a breakthrough, were seen cheering, smiling and receiving calls after being given the news.

Rescuers shook hands and congratulated each other as occasional cheers broke out.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers for their “tremendous efforts”.



 

A statement from his office read: "The Royal Thai Government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and co-operation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery."

A leading American cave rescue expert says many challenges lay ahead for the rescue divers.

Anmar Mirza, the US National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator, says the primary decision is now one of whether to try to evacuate them or to provide essential supplies until conditions improve.

Mr Mirza said: "Supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are.

"Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy."

He added that "if the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater".

The boys went missing with their 25-year-old coach after football practice on June 23 after they set out to explore the cave near Thailand's northern border with Myanmar.




 

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