CHIANG RAI - Thais are turning to social media to spread messages of hope and love for the 12 boys and their soccer coach who went missing last weekend in a 10km long flooded cave in northern Thailand, as a search entered a sixth day on Friday (June 29).
A hashtag, which translates to "the strangers we want to meet the most" is being used to convey the nation's concern for the boys.
"I'm waiting for 13 people to come back home," said a Thai user on Twitter, reported the BBC. "Come out. Everyone is waiting for you."
Another said: "I'm waiting to hear the words 'The search has come to an end, all 13 lives are safe'."
— Punch Somboonsri (@PunchSomboonsri) 26 June 2018
— Vthan (@vthans) 28 June 2018
Waiting for good news
I hope to see you all in tomorrow morning
Stay strong and be patient, boys✌✌✌
Help is on the way#Thailand #ThamLuang #StayStrong #StaySafe #Thamluangcave #ถ้ำหลวง #ถ้ำหลวงขุนนน้ำนางนอน #ทีมหมูป่าอะคาเดมี #คนแปลกหน้าที่อยากเจอมากที่สุด pic.twitter.com/x8ATpyIrji
— Namwoon Chitchanok (@Namwoon_ccw) 28 June 2018
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old assistant coach went missing on Saturday after they decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province, despite a sign warning visitors that the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.
Bicycles and soccer shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group. But the search has so far yielded no other trace.
Police on Friday began dropping survival packages through a shaft drilled in the mountainside not knowing if anyone was there, Reuters reported.
Twenty packages filled with water, food, medicine, flashlights and a note addressed to the missing team were dropped down a fissure in the cave on Friday, police said. Unsure of the boys’ location, they just hoped 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, commander of the police’s strategic office, told reporters.
“The note says: ‘If received, then reply and show on the map where you are. Everybody will quickly help.”
International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.
Police have been scouring ground above in search of other ways into the cave as divers tried to find their way through the flooded passages.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited the site on Friday to urge on the rescuers and assure relatives keeping vigil that every effort would be made. “Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it,” said Prayut. “I’ve come to give everyone encouragement.”
Plans to drill into the mountain side overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.
"We were able to drill on the side," Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, told reporters.
The cave is one of Thailand's longest. Visitors are usually only allowed up to 800 metres inside the cave, which has a reputation for being difficult to navigate.
A man who got lost inside the cave in 2002 along with four friends recalled his experience inside the "labyrinth", saying it was a miracle he got out alive.
Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.
Gen Prayut spoke to family members after visiting the cave.
"They're athletes. They're strong," he told the boys' relatives in an attempt to comfort them.