Son Ha Tran
Rescue teams involved in the search-and-rescue for 12 boys and their soccer coach found trapped after 10 days in a flooded cave in northern Thailand expect tremendous difficulties getting them out.
The 13, all members of an under-16 soccer team, were found alive and in stable condition Monday. The news brought tears of happiness and relief to the boys’ families waiting outside the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai, almost 800 km north of Bangkok.
It is reported all 13 were found nearly one km underground in the narrow, winding cave complex.
The soccer team is believed to have entered the cave on June 23 and became trapped by rising floodwaters, forcing a large-scale search-and-rescue campaign.
Kathleen Graham, president of the Alberta Speleological Society and a cave and survival expert, said it was a magical moment when the rescue team found all 13 alive.
She praised the boys and their coach for keeping their strength and spirit in such severe conditions. They are about a kilometre below the surface and about two km within the cave complex.
“Humans can survive quite a while without food but they need access to water. It seems like they have found access to water but it might be dirty,” Graham said. “If it’s surface water they can face surface contaminant which can lead to diarrhea and other diseases.”
Graham said survivors can easily fall into despair and negativity, and the biggest challenge is helping each other, keeping hope alive and avoid being negative until they regain their strength to be rescue.
“They, as a group, need to support each other,” she said. “Their flashlights probably all ran out of batteries, so they were in the complete darkness. Maybe they have phones, but those phone batteries have probably died.
“When the first divers came up, [the boys] asked what day it was…there’s no sunshine, there’s no morning and night inside a cave. They have absolutely no idea,” Graham said.
The Thai Navy released footage of the momentous encounter with the missing group. In the almost five minute clip, the boys were found exhausted and extremely hungry but still thrilled, thanking the rescuers for their efforts.
“We are coming, many people are coming. Many people, we are the first,” said one of the two divers.
The dazed boys, unaware of how long they’ve been trapped deep underground, ask what day it is.
“It’s Monday, you have been here 10 days, 10 days,” the rescuer replies. “You are very strong, very strong. We come, ok, we come.”
Graham said these boys, enduring one of the most dramatic experiences of their lives together, could make them friends for life.
“Those boys would be the closest friends forever now that they have gone through that,” she said.
Despite successfully locating the missing group without any terminal health risks, rescuers still have enormous hurdles to overcome before getting everyone out safely.
Several rescue options have been put forward, including helping and training the boys dive out with help from Navy divers or lifting them through the roof of the cave, said Narongsak Osottanakorn, the Governor of Chiang Rai.
At the moment, the 13 are getting adequate food, medical checks, and oxygen to remain in stable condition while waiting to get out.
Many rescue experts and survival specialists are concerned the rescue process could take months, resulting in a race against anticipated rain in Thailand’s monsoon season.