BANGKOK (REUTERS, AFP) - A dramatic underwater rescue mission to find a children’s football team who have been trapped in a flooded cave for two days was underway in northern Thailand, officials said on Monday (June 25).
Divers have reached a large chamber of the vast cave inside which the 12 boys and their coach are believed to be stuck, said the deputy governor of Chiang Rai province.
“We think they are in this part of the cave, which continues for another three kilometres,” Mr Pasakorn Boonyalug said.
“They haven’t eaten anything since Saturday, so we have brought them food and drink,” he added.
The children aged between 11 and 16 entered Tham Luang cave, in a national park near the Myanmar and Laos borders, with their coach on Saturday.
One of their mothers raised the alarm when her son did not return from football training that evening.
Heavy monsoon rains have hit the region in recent days, causing the cave to rapidly fill with water, and bicycles and shoes belonging to the boys were found soon afterwards at the cave’s entrance.
The rescue operation started on Saturday night but was suspended overnight, during which time water levels inside the cave rose dramatically, requiring divers to pass through muddy and flooded sections of the cave.
Diving equipment has been prepared to facilitate the children’s evacuation, Mr Pasakorn said.
Visitors must cross a small creek at the mouth of the cave in order to enter, the Bangkok Post news website reported. But the entrance is closed when the creek's water level reaches high enough to cause a run-off into the cave.
Park officials went about 3km into the cave on Saturday to look for the group but had to abandon the search after a heavy downpour threatened to flood the creek and block their exit, Bangkok Post reported.
A search operation on Sunday also failed to turn up any sign of the team members.
On Monday, a navy “seal” unit, including a team of divers, continued the search for the group again in the flooded cave.
“The team went down to a depth of 5m and found a large chamber... but we’ve found no trace of the children,” the navy unit said on its Facebook page.
A navy commander overseeing the search said he was hopeful they would be found. “I believe they’re all still alive but they might be exhausted ... we should get good news today,” Rear Admiral Arparkorn Yookongkaew told Reuters.
The search was made more difficult due to the cave's natural blockages and narrow passageways, the Bangkok Post reported. Murky floodwaters were also hampering the effort.
According to Reuters, visitors are required to get permission in order to explore the cave.
Relatives of the group on Monday prayed for their safe return. "We hope they will be rescued soon," a relative of the group told The Nation.