CHIANG RAI: People all over Thailand are worried about 13 strangers they have never met.
Since Jun 23, they have been stranded inside a large cave complex of Tham Luang in northern Chiang Rai - 12 schoolboys aged 11-16 and their 25-year-old football coach.
The chamber where they are stuck is several kilometres deep, flooded and dark. But last night, the very first time they were able to deliver handwritten messages to their families, worry is the last thing they want from their loved ones.
"Don't worry about me. I miss all of you - grandpa, aunty, mum, dad and everyone. I love you all. I'm doing well in here. Brothers from Thai SEALs are taking good care of me. Love you all," a boy whose nickname is Mick wrote with a pencil on a piece of paper.
"I'm fine," wrote another one. "It's just a bit chilly here but don't worry about me. Don't forget to throw my birthday party!"
Thirteen messages handwritten on pieces of paper were carried out to the outside world by Thai navy SEALs. More than 100 of them have been working around the clock to retrieve the stranded football team - Moo Pa (Wild Boar) Academy.
COACH SAYS SORRY
Besides the 12 children, their football coach Ekapol Chanthawong also wrote to a note to their parents, promising to take the best care of them and apologising for bringing them in:
"All the children are doing well. They're well taken care of by the rescue team. I promise I will care for them the best I can. Thank you for all the support and please accept my apology."
Just like the youngsters, the coach also had a message for his family:
"Dear aunty and granny, I'm doing well. Don't worry about me too much. Please take care of yourselves. Aunty, can you please tell granny to prepare vegetable juice and pork snacks? I'll eat them when I get out. Love you all."
A RACE AGAINST NATURE
Authorities, volunteers and experts from various fields have been working nonstop to bring out the Moo Pa Academy safely in a race against nature.
Thailand is now in its monsoon season and heavy rains have been forecast in the north. If they pour, monsoon rains could raise the water levels inside the limestone cave complex to a threshold that prevents safe evacuation.
On Friday night, Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda joined other authorities and experts in a discussion about ways to retrieve the 13 stranded.
Rescue operation chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters they 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. 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," he said.
"The deepest we’ve drilled so far is more than 400m. But we’re not convinced they would lead to where the children are trapped.”
Meanwhile, the Thai Meteorological Department has forecast thundershowers in Chiang Rai, with chances of rains over the weekend.
Outside the cave, the wait drags on for parents and relatives of the boys and their coach. For any piece of information to reach them, it takes about 11 hours, given that the location of the stranded is deep inside the cave system.
Experienced divers have to walk on rocky terrain against strong currents, swim and dive in the dark through a labyrinth of passages in murky water for six hours to reach the survivors. It takes them five hours to come back out.
One of them died Friday morning.
READ: 'We won't let his life be in vain': Tributes pour in for Thai diver who died trying to save boys in cave
Inside the cave, however, the boys and their coach remain in great spirits. A few of them wrote about what they want to eat and do when they manage to get out. One of the boys, Nick, wrote:
"Mum and dad, I love you, and my little brother too. If I can get out, please take me to have BBQ. I love you, mum, dad and brother."
READ MORE | Full coverage of the search and rescue operation: