by Elton Gomes
After being trapped for nine days inside a flooded cave in Thailand, 12 boys and their coach were found alive. However, rescuing them continues to be an uphill task, and the rescuers plan to pull the boys and the coach out in multiple stages. According to recent media reports, a former navy diver has died while participating in rescue efforts.
Chiang Rai Deputy Governor Passakorn Boonyalak announced that former sergeant Saman Kunan died on Friday due to lack of air while returning to a command centre underground. The command centre is located two kilometres inside the cave where the 12 boys and their football coach have been trapped since almost two weeks.
Kunan was returning to the command centre after delivering oxygen tanks to the cavern where the boys are trapped when he ran out of air while being under water. Shocked to hear the news, one of Kunan’s longtime friends, sergeant Anuram Kaewchano, spoke to CNN on the phone: “He was very fit, he exercised every day, and he was a triathlete. Our last trip together was to Malaysia.”
According to a report by the Associated Press, a Thai official overseeing the rescue operations has said that it may not be possible to rescue the boys and their coach at the same time.
Narongsak Osatanakorn, the provincial governor of Chiang Rai, said that “all 13 may not come out at the same time. If the condition is right and if that person is ready 100 per cent, he can come out,” the Associated Press reported. He added that authorities will assess their preparedness daily and will not proceed if any risk exists.
After a period of nine days, the boys and their coach were found alive inside the cave. Authorities are now deliberating on how to extract all of them safely. Here’s how the search and rescue operation unfolded.
The boys were known to be part of the Wild Boars youth football team in Thailand. On June 23, the boys along with their 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand after football practice. All 13 persons were reported missing by a mother whose son did not return that night. Local officials began looking for the boys and their coach as they are believed to be trapped by heavy rains that blocked them off from the main entrance. The officials found shoes and football boots close to the entrance of the cave.
The search continues amid heavy rains on June 24, and the officials find handprints and footprints believed to be those of the boys. The officials assume that the boys retreated into the tunnels and then got stuck there due to the rising floodwater. More than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command, including pararescue and survival specialists, join the search operation. In addition, three British diving experts enter the cave’s entrance. However, rising floodwater levels make it increasingly difficult for the divers to continue.
Water pumps were brought in to drain some of the floodwater. The three British divers and others search the mountain for alternative entrances into the cave. The rain stops pouring, and the divers take advantage of this by venturing further into the cave on July 1. An operating base is set up inside the cave and numerous oxygen tanks and supplies are brought in – this allows divers to stay underground for a longer time.
On July 2, nine days after the rescue operation began, the boys and their coach were discovered by two British divers in a cavern. The spot was approximately 400 metres away from Pattaya Beach, the Guardian reported.
Extracting the boys and their coach
It could take up to days, weeks, or even months to rescue the boys and their coach. Narongsak Osottanakorn, the governor of Chiang Rai, told the press on Wednesday that his tentative plan is to wait until water levels in the cave fall to an extent that all 13 persons can simply walk towards the entrance. However, that plan could be a long way off, and navy SEALs have begun giving swimming lessons to the boys. The boys have already tried on diving masks but have yet to jump into the muddy waters.
Making the rescue more difficult is the location of the area where the group is stranded. The area is accessible only through a narrow, flooded channel. Attempts to drain water from the cave, or to find a natural opening in the roof of the chamber have thus far been unsuccessful.
Captain Akanand Surawan, a commander with the Royal Thai Navy, said that the group will be supplied with four months’ worth of food. This could be an indication that the authorities are considering to conduct the rescue operation once the rainy season ends in October.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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