Rescuers say the 12 boys and their soccer coach do not yet have the adequate diving skills needed to leave the flooded cave. The announcement comes amid fears of further monsoon rains forecast for the coming days.
Thai rescuers have said 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been trapped inside a flooded cave in Thailand for two weeks are not yet ready to attempt an underwater evacuation.
In an update early Saturday Narongsak Osatanakorn, the local governor in charge of the operation, said it was “not suitable” to make the boys dive to safety yet. Rescuers said the group had not yet learned the diving skills needed to leave the flooded cave.
But Narongsak said at a news conference on Friday that if heavy rains started and appeared to be causing flooding in further areas of the cave, divers would attempt to evacuate the boys immediately.
Meanwhile, Thai authorities have started drilling more than 100 chimneys into the mountainside in a bid to extract the boys from above.
Narongsak said they would have to drill through 600 meters (1,970 feet) of delicate limestone rock to reach the group and drilling angles were still being discussed.
“Some (of the chimneys) are as deep as 400 meters… but they still cannot find their location yet,” Osottanakorn told reporters.
Osottanakorn admitted the rescue mission lacked the technology “to pinpoint where they [the boys] are staying.”
“We estimate that (they) are 600 meters down, but we don’t know the (exact) target,” he said.
Osottanakorn also said the rescue team had established a line to pump fresh air into the cave.
‘We have limited time’
Thailand’s Navy SEAL commander also said rescuers may have little choice but to attempt the difficult extraction of the group.
“At first, we thought the children could stay for a long time … but now things have changed, we have a limited time,” Apakorn Yookongkaew told reporters.
The announcement on Saturday comes one day after a former member of the Thai navy SEAL working as a volunteer died from lack of oxygen.
Samarn Kunan died while diving to place oxygen canisters along a potential route for the upcoming rescue attempt.
“Despite this, we will continue until we accomplish our mission,” Arpakorn said Friday.
Photos posted on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page on Saturday showed handwritten notes from the boys that have been sent out of the cave, expressing gratitude, love and dreams of food.
The football team coach Ekkapol Chantawong, who is 25 years old, has apologized to the boys’ parents in a note that he handed to the divers.
“To all the parents, all the kids are still fine. I promise to take the very best care of the kids,” he said.
“Thank you for all the moral support and I apologize to the parents.”
Thai people have a split opinion about Ekkapol’s role in the football team’s predicament. Many are lauding him after reports emerged that he gave his share of food to keep the boys alive for nine days until the rescue team traced them. Others are criticizing him for deciding to take the boys into the cave during the monsoon season.
shs, law/cmk (AFP, AP)