Thai cave rescue: Bird's nest collectors scour for ways into cave to save youth footballers

Thai park rangers carry ropes to assist a group of bird's nest collectors (not pictured) in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, on July 5, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
A bird's nest collector (left) is escorted by park rangers in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Thailand's Chiang Rai province on July 5, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

MAE SAI (AFP) - A team of bird's nest collectors from southern Thailand put their generations-old rock climbing know-how to use on Thursday (July 5) by scouring a mountainside for openings that could lead to 12 young footballers and their coach trapped inside a flooded cave.

The eight men, whose ages range from the 20s to the 50s, are Thai Muslims from Libong island in Trang province where they climb sheer limestone cliffs and explore crevices and caves to collect the edible nests, a delicacy made from solidified bird spit that can go for hundreds of dollars per kilo.

"One member in our team was watching (the rescue mission) on television and thought 'how can we help them?'," Mr Abdulrawheep Khunraksa, leader of the team, told AFP.

"We thought that we might have the expertise to help since we have climbed to collect bird's nests for generations," the 49-year-old added.

Armed simply with ropes, gloves and their knowledge of mountains, several members of the team set off up the steep slope in the hopes of finding an alternative route to reach the boys inside the Tham Laung cave.

Twelve boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach have been stranded inside the vast cave complex since June 23.

They were found on Monday (July 2) after a massive rescue mission but are unable to exit through surging floodwaters inside.

Thai navy experts are teaching them to dive in case fresh rains raise the water level and force them to attempt a complicated and dangerous escape.

In what the head of the rescue mission on Thursday said was "a race against water", authorities are desperate to boost their options and hope to find a chimney that could lead to the stricken group.

The team from Trang were about to return to their southern homeland on Wednesday (July 4) morning when authorities asked them to hurry back to the cave site.

Donations from their friends on Libong island paid for their tickets to the cave site - part of an army of volunteers in country captivated by the plight of the "Wild Boar" football team.

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