AN AUSTRALIAN cave diving expert has warned that the 12 boys and their soccer coach who are trapped in a cave in Thailand are likely to be stuck there for months.
Experts in cave rescues from around the world have gathered at the site. An official Australian group from the Australian Federal Police has followed a US military team, British cave experts, Chinese lifesaving responders and several other volunteer groups from various countries are also at the rescue operation.
According to Mr Wolf, the safest option is to “stabilise their environment” and ensure their needs for survival, such as having enough clean water, food and air, are met.
He said the quality of the air was definitely another concern, but said rescuers could open scuba tanks in the cave to make sure they have enough oxygen.
“It will create air pressure and the carbon dioxide will filter out through the rock,” he said.
Mr Wolf said the rescue was incredibly difficult but fortunately some of the world’s best cave divers are assisting with the mission.
“It takes a lot of training and experience to be comfortable in that environment. It’s pitch black, except for the lights you bring yourself.”
RELATED: Aussies join search for missing boys
The 12 boys and their soccer coach were found alive deep inside a partially flooded cave in northern Thailand early this morning. They had been missing for nearly 10 days.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop welcomed the news today, praising the “small but important role” Australia had played in assisting the Thai Government’s search efforts.
“Our team of specialists are supporting the Royal Thai Navy to get much needed food and first aid to the group, and plan for their safe evacuation from the cave,” she said in a joint statement with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Defence Minister Marise Payne.
The trapped group will be supplied with four months’ worth of food and get diving training, the military said.
Much-needed food and medical supplies — including high-calorie gels and paracetamol — reached them on Tuesday.
“[We will] prepare to send additional food to be sustained for at least four months and train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water,” Navy Captain Anand Surawan said, according to a statement from Thailand’s Armed Forces.
There are also reports that officials will be installing phone cables in the cave so that the kids can communicate with their parents.
Medics have managed to reach and assess the group.
“We categorised their health condition as red, yellow or green, red being the most severe injuries, yellow being mild and green being light. Yesterday, unofficially, we assessed that most are in the green category,” said Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn.
Medical teams will continue to monitor the boys’ health while they are trapped inside the cave network.
Narongsak said rescue workers would now focus on the “rescue” phase and now have to decide how best to get the group out in their weakened condition.
The team consists of six Australian Federal Police divers from the Specialist Response Group with experience in cave diving. Defence force, AFP and DFAT liaison and co-ordination specialists are also assisting the rescue efforts.
“We acknowledge the Government of Thailand’s strong leadership throughout this search and rescue operation,” Ms Bishop said.
AFP Commissioner Andew Colvin wrote on Twitter this morning that the job is not yet done.
“This is such incredible news! Some positivity to start the day. Well done to all rescue workers, but the task is not over yet. Getting these boys out quickly is still a huge challenge. Good luck to all involved, as I know they won’t be resting just yet.”
Awesome result. Congrats on the outstanding international rescue effort finding 12 young men and their soccer coach alive and well in #ThamLuang cave in Thailand. @AusFedPolice @dfat #YourADF pic.twitter.com/T48EfrYepM
— AFP (@AusFedPolice) July 2, 2018
LOST BOYS’ FIRST WORDS AS FOUND ALIVE
In a brief video filmed by a diver, which was posted on the Thai Navy Seal Facebook page, the boys and their coach spoke to rescuers for the first time.
“Tell him we are hungry,” one boy says in Thai. “I haven’t had anything to eat.” They ask what day it is, and the diver tells it is Monday.
“You have been here 10 days,” he says. “You are very strong.”
Later, one of the group says that he is very happy to see the divers arrive.
“We are happy, too,” the diver says.
“Thank you so much,” one boy says. “Thank you so much.” The British divers tell the group the rescue may take some time. “There’s only two of us, you have to dive.”
Reassuringly he tells them: “We’re coming, it’s OK. Many people are coming, we are the first.”
The rescuers who first reached the boys include Rick Stanton, a firefighter who is regarded as one of Britain’s foremost cave divers, with more than 35 years experience, and John Volanthen, who has helped pioneer new equipment that allows cave divers to stay underwater for longer and at greater depths.
Rescue divers had spent much of Monday making preparations for a final push to locate the lost soccer players, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach. They disappeared when flooding trapped them after entering the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai on June 23.
Narongsak said the divers located the missing about 300-400 metres past a section of the cave that was on higher ground and was thought to be where the team members and their coach may have taken shelter.
WHY BOYS COULD BE TRAPPED FOR MONTHS
Rescuers said they may have to wait for the water level to subside, which could take months, or teach the boys how to dive before the can be extracted.
The British Cave Rescue Council, which has been involved in the rescue operation, released a statement estimating the boys and their teacher were about 2km into the cave and “between 800m and 1km below the surface”.
It said their location makes any potential drilling rescue attempt “very difficult”.
“We believe that there is only a short break in the monsoon and all feasible options for the rescue of the boys are being considered. Although water levels have dropped, the diving conditions remain difficult and any attempt to dive the boys and their coach out will not be taken lightly because there are significant technical challenges and risks to consider,” the statement read.
Chiang Rai provincial Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said the group was in the process of being rescued, but he cautioned that they were not out of danger yet.
“We found them safe. But the operation isn’t over,” he said in comments broadcast nationwide, referring to the complicated process of extricating them.
A leading American cave rescue expert says many challenges are ahead for the rescue divers.
Anmar Mirza, the US National Cave Rescue Commission co-ordinator, says the primary decision is now one of whether to try to evacuate them or to supply them in place.
He says, “supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are. Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy.”
“If the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater.”
RELATIVES REJOICE AS TOUGH TIMES AHEAD
In the meantime, family members of the missing hugged each other as they heard the news the boys had been found alive.
Aisha Wiboonrungrueng, the mother of one of the boys, 11-year-old Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, smiled and hugged her family. She said she would cook her son a Thai fried omelet, his favourite food, when he returns home.
“When the medics have evaluated the kids to see if their health is in good condition, we will care for them until they have enough strength to move by themselves, and then we will evaluate the situation on bringing them out again later,” Narongsak said.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers who helped locate the missing for their “tremendous efforts”.
“The Royal Thai Government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and co-operation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery,” Mr Prayuth’s office said in a statement.
HOW THE RESCUE MISSION UNFOLDED
Thai navy SEAL divers and rescue workers from other countries had made initial progress through a narrow passageway early on Monday after passing through a key chamber on Sunday whose high, murky waters had previously blocked their progress.
Gov. Narongsak had said earlier that the passageway goes upward in some places and downward in others and is extremely narrow, making it difficult for divers and their gear to fit through.
Divers have been stymied repeatedly by rising water that forced them to withdraw for safety reasons. When water levels fell on Sunday, the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way.
The SEALs’ Facebook page said that since Sunday night, the divers had reached a bend where the kilometre-long passage splits in two directions. The divers were aiming for a sandy chamber on higher ground in the cave.
Gov. Narongsak explained early on Monday that fixing rope lines and deploying oxygen tanks along their route will allow the divers to operate.
In addition to the divers, teams have been working to pump out water as well as divert groundwater. Other efforts have focused on finding shafts on the mountainside that might serve as a back door to the blocked-off areas. Teams have been combing the mountainside looking for fissure that might lead to such shafts. Several have been found and explorers have been able to descend into some.
“These are challenging conditions and there’s a lot of consideration for safety as well as, the environment outside is contributing to the environment inside,” said US air force Captain Jessica Tait, part of a 30-member US military team assisting in the search operation, referring to the rain that has been flooding the cave. “So I’d say, yeah, it’s an accurate statement that it’s challenging.”
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