Thai Officials Take Careful Approach to Freeing Soccer Team Trapped in Cave

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Chiang Rai, Thailand
180703-TH-rescue-divers-1000.jpg Divers depart from the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province, Thailand, after 12 boys and their soccer coach were found after being missing for more than a week, July 3, 2018.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

A day after a teen soccer team was found alive after going missing for nine days inside a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand, officials said they were taking care of the trapped boys but had no fixed timetable for evacuating them.

Efforts to rescue the 12 boys and their coach from a cavern in the Tham Luang cave were focused on their safety and getting them back up to strength before attempting to bring them out, Thai Rear Adm. Apakorn Yukongkaew told reporters on Tuesday night.

“The 13 are doing OK as we have seven SEALs with them including a doctor and a nurse taking care of them,” Apakorn said.

“For the time-being we are feeding them soft foods, energy gel and minerals,” Apakorn said.

The boys, who range in age from 11 to 16, and their coach were found nearly 5 km (3.1 miles) inside the cave by British rescue divers on Monday night.

“The time to move is not known yet. But don’t worry, we will take them all out safely. We are rehabilitating, making them strong,” the admiral added.

The soccer team disappeared on June 23 while exploring the cave in Chiang Rai province. When they failed to return home, a parent reported them missing, setting off an international rescue effort drawing divers from Great Britain, the United States, Laos, Myanmar and China in addition to Thai Navy SEALs and hundreds of volunteers.

Flooding slowed efforts to find the missing boys. More rain is forecast, which could create worse conditions inside the cave, officials said.

Apakorn said volunteers were continuing to drain water from the cave as rescuers worked to establish a plan to remove the boys through the main entrance.

“Water should not rise to previous levels because we are draining it before we take them out,” Apakorn said. “The boys will be back to the embrace of their parents.”

He told reporters that rescuers were also weighing options, including training the boys to use scuba masks if they had to dive and swim out to safety.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chiang Rai provincial Gov.  Narongsak Osottanakorn confirmed that the boys were in good health.

“We have to thank rescue teams, both Thais and foreigners as well as public, who have been supporting us,” he said.

Previously, Narongsak said rescuers were searching for an alternative exit from a different shaft in the cave.

There could be complications and risks with attempting to evacuate the soccer team following the same challenging route through which the divers found them, Thai Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said.

“Diving is not easy. For people who have never done it, it will be difficult, unlike diving in a swimming pool, because the cave’s features have small channels,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “If something happens midway, it could be life-threatening.”

‘I would like to see my boy’

Meanwhile, parents of the trapped teens were anxious to be reunited with their boys.

Kham Promthep, whose son, Duangpetch Promthep, is a member of the soccer team, told BenarNews he was full of joy after learning that his son was alive.

“I heard from the news the governor who said the boys are found after 9 p.m., so I rode a bike here. I’m so overwhelmingly happy. I don’t need to sleep. I would like to see my boy,” Kham said Monday evening.

On Tuesday, media reported that the SEALs were working on getting a phone line to allow the boys to speak to their families who had gathered at a nearby shelter.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha thanked other nations for their assistance in the search efforts, AP reported.

“I have to thank the international community in assisting us. This would not have been possible if we didn’t help each other. Everybody did their part,” he said.

The U.S. ambassador to Thailand praised the efforts to locate the boys as well. The U.S. sent a military team to assist.

“The American people join Thais in celebrating the discovery of the football team and their coach in Tham Luang cave. We will continue to support Thai authorities in their efforts to safely bring home the players and their coach,” Ambassador Glyn Davies said Tuesday, according to AP.


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