Search for youth footballers trapped in flooded Thai cave

MAE SAI (Thailand) • Hundreds of rescuers were mobilised yesterday to save 12 children and their football coach from a flooded cave in northern Thailand, where they have been trapped for two days amid heavy rain and dwindling food supplies.

The youngsters, aged between 11 and 16, went into the cave in Chiang Rai province after football training last Saturday. One of their mothers raised the alarm when her son failed to return home.

Divers found bicycles, shoes and footprints in the 5km-long Tham Luang Nang Non cave, where the youngsters and their 20-year-old coach are trapped, an official said.

The group is believed to have retreated into the cave as heavy monsoon rain fell and flooded the entrance of the cave in a national park near the border with Myanmar.

"We are surveying the areas around the mountain and will try to find another exit or entrance," Chiang Rai provincial governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said, adding that hundreds of officials have been sent to help with the rescue.

Police Colonel Komsan Saardluan told the Associated Press that waters in the cave system can reach 4.9m during the rainy season from June to October.

But officials told The Nation newspaper that they believed the group might be in a dry section of the cave.

A team of navy divers was dispatched to look for them.

But as of yesterday, no contact had been reported.

"We have been working almost 24 hours but there are many limitations," Mr Kamolchai Kotcha, of Thailand's national parks authority, told CNN. "The caves are pitch dark", with a "very low level of oxygen in some areas", he added.

According to The Nation, workers were blasting sand out of an underwater passageway on another side of the cave in hopes of finding the youngsters.

At least 30 people were killed in major floods in January last year in southern Thailand.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2018, with the headline 'Search for youth footballers trapped in flooded Thai cave'. Print Edition | Subscribe