NEWS
03/07/2018 10:35 BST | Updated 03/07/2018 10:52 BST

Thailand Cave Rescue Complications Could Mean Boys Are Stuck Until October

It will be a 'gnarly dive' through flooded caves to free them, experts have said.

Rescuers are racing against the clock to pump water from a cave in northern Thailand to free a young football team trapped inside for 10 days and counting.

Joy at their discovery on Monday was quickly tempered by the practicalities of freeing them from a partially-flooded cave during the country’s rainy season, with the army now warning it could take months to rescue them. 

So Where Are They?

The Tham Luang caves are located in the far north of Thailand close to where the country borders both Laos and Myanmar.

The group is four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the mouth of the cave, stuck on an elevated rock above the water’s surface.

Reuters

How Did They Get Stuck There?

Aged between 11 and 16, the boys went missing with their 25-year-old coach after football practice on June 23, when they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in a forest park near Thailand’s northern border with Myanmar,  Reuters reported.

Heavy rain subsequently flooded the complex, cutting off a number of exits and trapping them inside. 

PA Graphics

Who Found Them?

Cave rescue experts from around the world have gathered at the site to help with the rescue.

An Australian group has followed a US military team, British cave experts, Chinese lifesaving responders and several other volunteer groups from various countries.

Two British divers, 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.

LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA via Getty Images
John Volanthen (L) and Richard William Stanton (R) are seen with Thai rescue personnel at the Tham Luang cave area.

He said the UK divers described the journey to the chamber as a “gnarly dive”.

“The description in (the) email was it was ‘a bit of a gnarly dive’, which means there was a bit of complications and problems,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“(There was) quite a strong current, so they were having to swim against the current and pull themselves along the wall.

“The visibility in the water wouldn’t have been very good.”

The elite pair divers have established reputations as being among the best cave rescuers in the world, and were called upon by Thai authorities who were seeking expert help.

Stanton, a fireman from Coventry, previously said his greatest achievement was helping rescue trapped British soldiers from a cave in Mexico in 2004.

Regarded as one of the world’s leading cave rescue experts, he told publication Divernet that diving is a “hobby” he does voluntarily.

They found the group along with a team of Thai navy SEAL divers who have been posting videos of the rescue attempt on their Facebook page.

Why Did It Take So Long To Find Them?

The rescuers had been stymied repeatedly by rising water that forced divers to withdraw for safety reasons. When water levels fell on Sunday, the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way.

What Condition Are The Boys In?

The boys were found in weak condition, but with only minor injuries. 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.

“How many of you are there - 13? Brilliant,” a member of the multinational rescue team, speaking in English, tells the boys. “You have been here 10 days. You are very strong.”

“Thank you,” one of the boys says.

A Thai provincial governor said the 13 have all had an “informal” medical evaluation inside the cave and most are in stable condition and none are in critical condition.

Narongsak Osatanakorn said that they used a field assessment in which red is critical condition, yellow is serious condition and green is stable condition.

He said: “We found that most of the boys are in green condition. Maybe some of the boys have injuries or light injuries and would be categorised as yellow condition. But no one is in red condition.”

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters
Soldiers and rescue workers work to clear water from the cave.

What Else Did They Say?

In the five-minute navy video, the boys were quiet as they sat. One boy, noticing the camera and hearing unfamiliar words, said in Thai, “Oh, they want to take a picture; tell him we’re hungry. I haven’t had anything to eat.”

Then the boy breaks into simple English, saying, “Eat, eat, eat,” to which another voice responds in Thai that he already told that to the rescuer.

Narongsak said they were given high-protein liquid food, painkillers and antibiotics. He said doctors had advised giving the medicine as a preventative measure.

When Will They Get Out?

It is not known when the boys will be freed. Experts have said it could be safer to simply supply them where they are for now. Thailand’s rainy season typically lasts through October.

Rain continued to fall in Chiang Rai on Tuesday and was forecast to intensify from Wednesday.

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters
A spirit and Buddha state image outside in front of a cave near Tham Luang cave .

In the video of their discovery, one boy asks when they will get out, to which the rescuer answers: “Not today. You have to dive.”

Anmar Mirza, a leading American cave rescue expert, said many challenges remain for the rescuers. He said the primary decision is whether to try to evacuate the boys and their coach or to supply them in place.

“Supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are,” Mirza, coordinator of the US National Cave Rescue Commission, said in an email.

“Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy. That also begets the question: if the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater.”

Narongsak said officials had met and agreed on the need to “ensure 100% safety for the boys when we bring them out.”

“We worked so hard to find them and we will not lose them,” he said.

Teams have also been working to pump water out of the cave and divert groundwater, while other rescuers focused on exploring shafts above ground that might lead into the cave.

Several fissures were found and teams have explored some, though none led to the missing group.

How Have The Boys’ Families Reacted?

Family members of the missing hugged each other and cheered as they heard they had been found.

Aisha Wiboonrungrueng, the mother of 11-year-old Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, smiled and hugged her family as news of their discovery spread.

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters
Family members wait for news near the cave.

She said she would cook her son a Thai omelette, his favourite food, when he returns home.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers who helped locate the missing for their “tremendous efforts”.

“The Royal Thai Government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and cooperation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery,” Mr Prayuth’s office said in a statement.