Thai cave rescue: Boys not ready to be evacuated, official says

Thai cave rescue: Boys not ready to be evacuated, official says

Military personnel gather as they prepare to go in to Tham Luang cave complex, as members of an und
Military personnel gather as they prepare to go in to Tham Luang cave complex, as members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach have been found alive according to local media in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

CHIANG RAI: Thai officials ruled out any attempt to bring 12 boys and their football coach out of the flooded Tham Luang cave overnight, as they are not ready to dive yet.

Former Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn, who is heading the rescue operation, on Friday night (Jul 6) dispelled media reports citing a rescue diver who said he had been on standby for the mission.

Diver Ben Reymenants had told Belgian media that the operation would take place throughout the weekend as heavy rain was expected on Sunday, and that the boys would be evacuated two by two, beginning with the strongest boys.

According to the medics, the most appropriate time for an evacuation, should it be called, is probably from 3am to 4am, Narongsak said.


Thailand's Navy SEAL commander earlier said rescuers may have "limited time" to attempt the tricky job of getting the group out, the first official admission waiting out the monsoon period in the cave may not be possible.

But Narongsak told reporters that while the boys are doing well and have learnt how to dive, they were not ready yet. 

"The boys' (condition) are not suitable ... (they) cannot dive at this time," he said. 

"We'd like minimum risk. But we can't wait until it rains heavily and worsens the situation. If that happens, we'll need to reassess. The key thing is the kids' readiness to dive."

The Chiang Rai governor added that the air in the cave was "still all right" that the boys and their coach are able to walk around in their shelter.

Officials warned earlier on Friday that oxygen levels in the cave had fallen, and Narongsak acknowledged that the concern over the limited air inside the cave complex remains, and that rescuers have been pumping air into the cave through a 5km-long oxygen pipeline. 

TRAGIC DEATH

Narongsak said that authorities were trying to come up with the best plan for evacuation. “I’m worried about everyone who participates the Tham Luang rescue operation,” he added.

An experienced former Thai Navy Seal assisting with the rescue died after running out of oxygen on Friday, raising fears that it was far from safe for the kids to make the attempt.

The diver was part of a team trying to establish an air line to the chamber where the children are awaiting rescue and lay oxygen tanks along the route.

The round trip in and out of the cave to reach the boys can take a highly skilled diver about 11 hours.

tham luang cave complex
The route to where the Thai boys and their football coach are trapped in the cave. (Graphic: Rafa Estrada)

But some involved have pointed out that the team has been in Tham Luang before they and their coach went in on Jun 23 and were trapped by floodwater, so the familiar terrain might help.

Narongsak said that according to the medics, the most appropriate time for an evacuation, should one be called, is probably from 3am to 4am.

Rescue alternatives would be for the children to remain in the cave for months until the wet season ends and flood waters recede, or drilling a shaft into the cave from the forest above.

thai caves options infographic

“We have discussed different plans for various scenarios, including those suggested by foreign cave diving experts, to assess their feasibility. As I’ve always pointed out, they went in from the entrance and should come out the same way," said Narongsak.

“Still, we continue to drill into air holes on top of the mountain. We’ve drilled more than 100 spots so far. Eighteen of them could potentially let the rescuers down to the stranded. The deepest we’ve drilled so far is more than 400m. However, we’re not convinced they would lead to where the children are trapped.”

"We’ve calculated how long it may take to drill the mountain in a straight line. We referred to the Chilean mine case, where it took two months to drill 1km deep. We may have to drill about 600m to find the boys.

The saga has captivated Thailand and the rest of the world as rescuers fought to pump out massive quantities of water to help make diving easier.

Though mild weather has held, light rains picked up again on Friday.

Parents of the trapped children have kept long vigils at the camp site, which has teemed with media and rescue workers.

But families have only been able to hear from their children through footage uploaded to the Thai Navy Seal Facebook page.

Messages of support for the "Wild Boars" team have come in from across the world, including from football stars in Russia for the World Cup.

The unprecedented rescue mission has been dogged by the threat of rains, which complicate pumping water out of the cave system. Intermittent rain hit the already muddy camp site on Friday.

Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk said Friday he was sending engineers from his SpaceX and Boring Co - which has experience in tunnelling technology - to offer help.

READ MORE | Full coverage of the search and rescue operation:  
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/topic/Thailand-cave-rescue

Source: CNA/Agencies/ec(dt)

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