Reopening of Tham Luang cave may take more than a year, says Thai official

Rescue workers at the Tham Luang cave complex in Thailand on, July 10, 2018, the day the 12 boys were rescued. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There are no plans yet to reopen Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province, where 12 Moo Pa (Wild Boars) footballers and their deputy coach were trapped in late June, a senior official of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department said.

But in December, the public will be allowed to visit the areas surrounding the cave, located inside the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, according to the department's deputy director-general Chongklai Worapongsathorn.

"The Mineral Resource department's team will inspect the cave early next year to see if it would be safe for the public to visit. However, we cannot say for certain how long the inspection will take or when the cave will reopen. It could possibly take more than a year," he said.

When the cave is reopened, it will be for only a short distance from the mouth of the 10km-long cave, not through to the end, like before.

The Moo Pa members disappeared inside the cave in late June after a flash flood blocked their way out. It was revealed after they were rescued that they had to retreat deep into the cave due to the inundation.

Their disappearance triggered a massive international operation to locate and evacuate them from the heavily flooded cave. The 17-day rescue operation became a symbol of international cooperation.

All 13 were successfully rescued and Lieutenant-Commander Saman Gunan, a former Navy SEAL, was the only casualty of the mission. After the Moo Pa team members were rescued, equipment and other things were left inside the flooded cave.

Mr Chongklai said on Tuesday (Oct 9) that around February next year, when the cave becomes dry, the authorities would be allowed to remove the equipment left inside.

It is reported that, on average, about 3,000 people visit the forest park during holidays, and about 500 to 1,000 during weekdays. The landscape of the areas outside the cave that had been damaged during the rescue mission had been renovated and modified in preparation for reopening to the public.

The 12 Moo Pa footballers and their deputy coach were in Buenos Aires this week to attend the Youth Olympics as special guests of the International Olympic Committee. They had the opportunity to play football with international youth teams and share their experiences with them.

Phayao Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn, the then-Chiang Rai governor who headed the rescue operation, also joined the trip. He, deputy coach Ekkapon Chantawong and a Moo Pa footballer, Adul Sam-on, also left Buenos Aires for New York to represent the group at the Asia Game Changer Awards.

Mr Narongsak will accept the award on behalf of the Thai rescuers, becoming the first Thai to receive the award.

The group will appear on NBC's Today Show and The Ellen Show hosted by comedian Ellen DeGeneres. They will also meet Thai communities in New York.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.