Time is Running Out for Soccer Team Found Trapped Underground as Monsoon Season Looms

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cave, Thailand, trapped underground, soccer team
Members of the Wild Boars soccer team pose for a group photo earlier this month. Credit: CNN

UPDATED: 5th July 2018 – An international group of rescuers in Thailand are racing against the rains to free 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. A deluge is expected to hit in a matter of days and could force the water level up, threatening to flood the pocket where the group has taken refuge.

The group was found on Monday night by two British rescuer divers, on a rock shelf about 2.5 miles from the mouth of the cave. The total journey from the cave’s entrance to the trapped group currently takes a total of 11 hours – six hours in and five hours back out.

“We are racing against time before we found them,” Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn said at a press conference on Thursday morning. “Now we are racing against water.”

If the rain stops for long enough, there is a possibility that the group could walk out of the Tham Luang cave complex, or be floated out – rather than having to dive. Many of the boys can’t swim, and all will have to be taught basic diving skills if they are to leave that way. The Thai military has previously said that if the boys can’t dive out, the group may have to wait for up to four months for flooding to recede before they can leave, and food and other supplies are already being put in place for that eventuality.

Around 1 pm last Saturday (23rd June), the weather was clear when soccer teammates chained their bikes to a rail, hooked their backpacks over their shoulders, and hiked into Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the mountains of northern Thailand, reports CNN.

cave, Thailand, trapped underground, soccer team
Credit: Google maps

The 12 boys, members of the Wild Boars soccer team, and their 25-year-old coach had explored inside the cave before. For reasons unknown, the boys and their coach ventured on, deeper into the cave network, past signs that warn people not to enter during the rainy season, which usually begins in July. It was hours later that a ranger from the national park in Chiang Rai Province alerted authorities when he noticed the bikes still chained up after the park had closed. Search and rescue efforts began soon after. The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their coach, have now been missing for over a week.

“When I saw his bike parked inside the cave (entrance) my tears just dropped,” said Pipat’s father Pinyo Bhodi. “I was desperate to find my son.”

cave, Thailand, trapped underground, soccer team
Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the entrance of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave network. Credit: CNN

Emergency services working frantically to find them have spent the past few days dropping food down holes they find in the jungle-covered mountain in the hope it connects with the caves below. Volunteers help pump water out of the cave entrance. Search and rescue teams from the US military have arrived at the Thai government’s request to help with the effort, along with British underwater cave experts.

cave, Thailand, trapped underground, soccer team
Thai soldiers walk out of the entrance to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, Friday, June 29. Credit: CNN

Thai Navy Seals with diving gear have swum some 3 miles into the pitch-black passageways to try to find the boys and returned without a sense of where they might be. There’s not been a sound from the missing boys all this time. Their families are frantic. He added that oxgyen levels in the cave would be dangerous if the flow of air was incapacitated by rising water levels.

“Physically, it’s not a hard cave, it’s just very long and it has big passages, small passages,” he said. “It’s not difficult but if the children have gone in too far then the floodwaters from the far end will be coming through. With the rain, it’s not making it any easier.”

It’s not the first time people have disappeared inside the cave for an extended period of time, and survived. A former village headman in the area of Tham Luang said that in 1974, a group of foreign hikers had become trapped in the same cave for seven days. However conditions then were dry.

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