CHIANG RAI • As a search for 12 boys and their football coach missing inside a flooded Thai cave entered a sixth day yesterday, police dropped survival packages through a shaft drilled in the mountainside not knowing if anyone was there.
The fate of the boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old coach has gripped Thailand since they went missing last Saturday after they decided to explore the 10km-long Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province, despite warnings that the maze of passages and chambers is prone to flooding.
Bicycles and soccer shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think muddy handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group.
But the search has yielded no other trace of the group.
International rescue teams are helping the Thai military and police in a search that has been hampered by heavy rain. Police have been scouring mountain slopes above the cave in search of other ways in as divers tried to find their way through the flooded passages. Efforts to pump out the floodwaters continued yesterday.
Twenty packages filled with water, food, medicine, flashlights and a note for the team were dropped down a fissure in the cave, police said. Unsure of the boys' location, they are hoping the boxes would reach them.
"If the children find this box we want them to float the box out of the cave," police Colonel Kraiboon Sotsong told reporters. "The note says: 'If received, then reply and show on the map where you are. Everybody will quickly help'."
There has been an outpouring of support for the missing 13.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited the site yesterday to assure relatives that every effort was being made. "Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it," he said.
Several hashtags have appeared on Twitter in support of the 13, including "don't give up", and "13 Hope". Also, a group of school children posted a video on Facebook featuring a song they wrote for the young footballers, pleading for mercy from a deity known as Mae Nang Non, who is believed to protect the Tham Luang cave.
Football clubs, including British teams Liverpool and Chelsea, have also expressed concern for the boys.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE