Forecast calls for heavy rain, raising risk that underground complex in northern Thailand could be flooded

Trapped in a Cave: How to Rescue the Wild Boars Soccer Team

It’s a drama that is keeping the world on edge: Twelve boys and their soccer coach were found alive 10 days after vanishing in a flooded cave complex in Thailand. But officials say there are no easy options for getting them out.

THAM LUANG CAVE, Thailand—International rescuers working to extract a youth soccer team from a flooded cave system in northern Thailand raced Wednesday to drain a route to freedom before an incoming storm again raises water levels in the underground labyrinth.

The worsening weather forecast is for heavy rain within days as the tropical wet season becomes more entrenched.

Thai officials said the 12 boys and their coach appeared to be in good shape and physically ready for an extraction attempt if enough water can be pumped out of the cave. A video released Wednesday by Thai Navy SEALs showed the team inside a cavern smiling and flashing “V” signs for the camera. Many were wrapped in foil blankets, and some wore fresh clothing brought in by rescue divers; one sported an England soccer shirt.

Thai government spokesman Lt. Gen. Weerachon Sukondhapatipak called for caution over time pressures to extract the boys. “The utmost objective we have is to be safe,” he said.

Others involved in the operation suggested an extraction could be imminent. “If everything goes well, they can get out tomorrow or the day after,” said Claus Rasmussen, a diver at Blue Label Diving in Phuket, who is offering advice at the cave site. “If not, then maybe we’re looking at a four-month option,” referring to a proposal that would see the team wait out the remainder of the rainy season, which can run until November.

MYANMAR (BURMA)

THAM LUANG CAVE

1,000 feet

(surface footprint)

THAILAND

300 meters

N

Pattaya Beach

Team and coach found

800 meters to 1 km

below the surface

Some belongings found

VIETNAM

MYANMAR

(BURMA)

LAOS

Entrance

Tham

Luang

cave

Main

entrance

THAILAND

Bangkok

Pong Pha

CAMBODIA

Gulf of

Thailand

Sources: Shepton Mallet Caving Club (cave path); British Cave Rescue Council (location details); Google (image)

Mr. Rasmussen said one plan under consideration would pair each child with three divers who would guide them out individually and carry air tanks that attach to masks for the children.

One person involved in the rescue effort who asked not to be identified said divers are attempting to clear an exit from the cave and pump out as much water as possible. He said water levels inside the cave system, among Thailand’s largest, have gone down in recent days between 5 and 10 centimeters (about 2 to 4 inches). A lack of heavy rain in the past few days has helped the operation. Water, however, has again started coming in from an unknown source, complicating efforts.

Heavy RainHistorically, the rainiest months are still tocome in the area of Thailand where 13 peopleare trapped in a cave.Monthly rainfall in Chiang Rai, ThailandSource: Thai Meteorological Department
.inches201720181981-2010 averageJan.JuneDec.0.02.55.07.510.012.515.017.5

Cave-diving experts have said that giving the children scuba gear and guiding them out carries significant risk. The passageways are narrow and sometimes difficult to maneuver, and the boys are a considerable distance into the cave. Some caverns are completely flooded. If one group gets into trouble, it might have to retrace its steps for hundreds of yards against a fast-moving current to reach safety.

Another possibility is to find a way to drill through the surface above or search for an alternative route into the miles-long cave system. Mr. Rasmussen said the boys have claimed to hear noises like dogs barking and roosters crowing. Although they haven’t been confirmed by divers, the reports have led Thai authorities to redouble efforts to locate possible holes to the surface through which the children could be rescued, he said.

The boys, who range from 11 to 16 years, entered the cave complex with their 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, on June 23 after finishing a soccer game, said the government spokesman, Lt. Gen. Weerachon. One member of the team who didn’t join the expedition said Mr. Ekkapol advised them to have a good breakfast and bring water. One team member who didn’t go on the cave hike, Songpon Kanthawong, 13 years old, said the squad idolized their coach and described him as a selfless leader they would follow anywhere.

The Way Out

Rescuers have been debating the safest way to get the trapped youth soccer team out of the Tham Luang Cave. Options include drilling into the cave complex from above and leaving the boys in place until the end of the rainy season, which could be months. A look at why taking them out now could be dangerous.

THAM LUANG CAVE

Main cave

entrance

Found alive

The 13 were found in a cavern above the level of rising waters just past a feature known as ‘Pattaya Beach.’

Low visibility from muddy water makes it difficult for even experienced divers to stay oriented.

Flowing water makes the four-hour trek out difficult for the boys, who cannot swim.

Parts of the passageways are underwater.

Pattaya Beach

Narrow stretches would require children to go single file, following a guide rope. If a child were to panic, it would be difficult to help them.

1,000 feet

N

200 meters

Note: Divers sometimes may have to remove their tanks.

Source: Thai government, staff reports

When the team entered the Tham Luang Cave, some left their soccer cleats and backpacks with their bicycles outside. Then, a flash flood cut them off from the entrance and they sought out higher ground further inside the cave as water levels quickly rose. Family members raised the alarm. They were located by a team of British diving experts late Monday after 10 days underground.

Lt. Gen. Weerachon said the boys had some snacks with them and a little water. When they realized they were trapped, they ate sparingly, sometimes augmenting their supplies by drinking water dripping from the cave wall. Mr. Ekkapol, the coach, had warned them not to drink from the muddy floodwaters and taught them basic meditation techniques to stay calm. Lt. Gen. Weerachon said each boy had a flashlight and they took turns using them to conserve batteries.

A Buddhist monk who had earlier held a prayer for the boys’ safety blessed a number of holy red string bracelets, some of which were distributed Wednesday among Navy SEALs for good luck, according to a person who saw the ceremony. Meanwhile, officials unsuccessfully devoted energy to a plan to connect the soccer team, nicknamed the Wild Boars, via fiber-optic and phone cables to their parents and rescuers on the outside.


Photos: Rescuers Work to Get Thai Soccer Team Out of a Cave

A youth soccer team and its coach were found alive deep inside a Thai cave complex. Getting them out will be extremely difficult.



Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakornstand, center. talks to the media as rescue operations continued Wednesday for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand.


Rescue-team members on June 27 searched for alternate entrances to the cave complex.


A parent of one of the boys who is trapped makes a phone call as she waits while the rescue operations continued.


Rescuers prepare dive gear at the entrance of the cave complex.


A great aunt of one of the boys displays birthday candles for him at their home.


A Thai army medic slips as his comrades carry a stretcher with an acting injured person during a rescue drill at the cave site.


One of the trapped boys.


A water pipe, part of the effort to drain the cave complex.


A foreign diver heads toward the cave complex.


Boys from the soccer team trapped inside the Tham Luang Cave receive treatment from a medic.


Relatives of the boys, aged 11 to 16 years old, and their soccer coach, showed photos of some of them July 2, after they were found alive in the cave.


Gen. Bancha Duriyaphan speaks to the press July 2.


Family members smiled after hearing the good news on July 2.


Thai soldiers loaded cables in the cave complex during the rescue operation.


Royal Thai Navy SEALs on June 30 headed into the cave.


A rescuer made her way down muddy steps past water-pump hoses at the entrance to the cave complex on June 29.
Rescue-team members on June 27 searched for alternate entrances to the cave complex.
THAILAND DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
1 of 16

The fiber-optic cable is now installed up to a midsection of the cave system, according to Nucha Kamtap, a local manager of CAT Telecom, which is in charge of handling communications in the cave. But that section is still short of the boys’ location, and he suggested that given the improved conditions in the cave, they may never have to install the last section.

Medical experts have warned about the psychological effects of staying underground for so long. Thai authorities, however, are concerned that the worsening weather could make it harder to supply food and water to the team, forcing them to order the boys’ extraction despite the risk.

Write to Phred Dvorak at phred.dvorak@wsj.com and Jake Maxwell Watts at jake.watts@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

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