Weather looms as chief danger for Thai cave boys
Thailand: Heavy rains and fresh flooding loom as potentially the greatest threat to freeing the trapped Thai soccer team, according to Chiang Rai province governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, with a huge rescue team working around the clock to try to get them out.
An Australian Federal Police diver involved in the search and rescue effort deep inside the cave complex says it would be a “terrifying” ordeal for an 11-year-old to swim and dive out of the flooded complex.
Members of the Australian Federal Police dive team walk down the track that leads to the cave entrance where the rescue operations are being planned.
The 12 soccer players, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are entering their 13th day trapped in the sprawling cave complex and a frantic rescue effort is underway, led by Thai authorities.
Governor Narongsak said in a briefing on Thursday that now, “we worry about the weather the most”.
“In the past few days we worked against time, but now we work against water.”
Heavy rains that has been forecast have so far held off, but as Thailand heads into its monsoon season, a deluge is expected in the coming days, which has the potential to wind back the progress made recently, and re-fill the cave with water.
Governor Narongsak said the return of monsoon rains were a major concern for rescue workers.
Calculations are already underway to determine how long rescue workers can safely remain in the cave complex if the rains start again before they themselves would need to be evacuated.
An army spokesman said the return journey into the cave took about 11 hours for the divers – six hours in and five hours to get back out.
The governor also said the level of the water in the cave had decreased substantially, by about 1cm per hour or 180,000 litres per hour, and that 130 million litres had been expelled from the cave so far.
The Governor again said the trapped boys may be brought out by rescue workers one by one, but stopped short of revealing when the diving operation could begin.
Thai army soldiers rest at the base camp before going to Tham Luang cave.
The boys are unable to swim and do not have experience in diving but Governor Narongsak said underwater dive training for the boys was well underway.
“The children that are prepared and [if it’s] appropriate, we will bring them out first,” he said.
“It’s not important to bring 13 at the same time. They have to train [in underwater diving] for a couple of days, but if you ask if they can dive today, I think they cannot.”
Friends and classmates of the trapped boys in Tham Luang cave gather at the staging area to pray.
Australian Federal Police Tactical response diver Matt Fitzgerald, one of six AFP officers deployed to the cave complex in north-western Thailand to assist with the rescue, has conducted diving operations as far as the third chamber, which is about 1.5km into the cave complex.
Now that chamber can be reached on foot because of the sheer volume of water pumped out.
Asked what it would be like for an 11-year-old to face the prospect of diving and swimming the 1.5km from where the boys are trapped to the third chamber – before then having to walk out another 1.5km – Mr Fitzgerald was blunt.
“It would be terrifying,” he said, before adding a rider: “the children are aware of the cave, they know the cave, they have been in the cave very often”.
Thai volunteers bring back to the base camp the fibre optic cables that have failed to work inside the cave.
“The cave is quite challenging, there is zero visibility, it’s a confined space so it’s a challenge.”
On Thursday afternoon, the fibre optic cable that rescue workers had managed to lay all the way to the third chamber, about 1.5km, failed and had to be taken out of the cavern. That failure will make communications with rescue workers in chamber three more difficult.
A new dam at the southern end of the site has also been set up to take outflows from the cave as the pumping operation continues.
And efforts to find an air hole on top of the mountain have also been stepped up with as many as 30 teams of rescuers searching for an air hole that could offer a way into the cave from above, and therefore an alternative escape route.
An army spokesman said “our main mission today, we will search for the right coordinates on the mountain, in case there is a point where we can pull the boys out”.
Men from the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand overseeing the pumping of water from Tham Luang Cave.
Earlier on Thursday, a new video emerged on Facebook featuring the mothers of two of the trapped boys pleading with people not to blame the boy’s coach, Ake, for the boys' predicament.
And Poonsak Woongsatngiem, a senior official from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation in Bangkok, told reporters on Thursday morning that water levels remained very high in some sections of the cave complex.
“We hope that today or tomorrow the water level between the third chamber and the point that the students are at will decrease more.
Woongsatngiem said that as pumping continued overnight to drain the flood waters, levels had fallen by about 40 centimetres at the mouth of the cave complex. However, in some deeper in sections of the complex, water still reaches the ceiling of the cave.
Monk Kruba Boonchum prayed with he families to the Princess spirit.
Overnight on Wednesday, additional power had been installed at the site so that more pumps could be installed, to hasten the pumping of the water out of the cave. More than 20 pumps were now operating, he said.
Draining waters to allow the 13 to simply walk out remains the preferred option, but if the monsoon rains arrive that plan will likely be dropped.
In the Facebook video, the mothers of “Tee” and “Dom”, two of the boys trapped in the cave, said people should not blame the 25-year-old coach.
“I never blame Ake, I love him like my brother, by heart. This guy is very good and he taking care of my boy so well,” one of the women said.
“I don't want anyone [to] blame Ake at all. I knew him since my son was very young. He's sincerely loving and taking care of my son,” the second mother said.
Meanwhile, Australia will boost the number of specialists working to rescue the boys.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton announced the additional contribution of three people on Thursday morning.
There are already six Australian Federal Police specialist divers on site at the Tham Luang cave, as well as liaison officers from the ADF, AFP and Department of Foreign Affairs.
The increase takes to 12 the number of Australians deployed as part of the international rescue effort, which is being led by the Thai government and military.
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