Thai cave rescue: Boys to be taught to swim and dive

Published On: July 4, 2018 09:45 AM NPT By: Agencies

THAILAND, July 4: Thai authorities said Navy Seals and cave diving experts would begin teaching the 12 boys trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand how to swim and dive either from Wednesday (July 4) or Thursday, before heavy rain falls as forecast over the coming days.

Getting the boys, aged 11 to 16, to dive their way out of the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai would be the next resort if plans to pump water from the cave fail to work, Bangkok Post cited Navy Seal Chief Rear Admiral Aphakorn Yoo-kongkaew as saying

"It may be four months, one month or one week. There's no need to hurry," he was quoted by the paper as saying on Wednesday.

"The first plan is to reduce the water level and get them out but if we can't, we will have a backup plan," he added.

The boys would be brought out when they are mentally ready and physically fit for the potentially punishing journey of about 4km to the mouth of the cave, he said.

"Anyone who is ready first will be brought out. They will be brought out gradually," Rear Admiral Aphakorn was quote by Bangkok Post as saying. "Safety is the priority."

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach went missing on June 23. It is believed they entered the cave when it was dry and sudden heavy rains blocked the exit. 

They were found after a frantic nine-day search by an international team including rescuers and divers from the United States, Britain, Japan and elsewhere.

British volunteer divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, who have day jobs as a fireman and Internet engineer respectively, negotiated a long and winding path through flooded caverns to find the 12 young boys and their coach.

Rear Admiral Aphakorn said the whole team is now safely in the hands of seven Seal divers, a military doctor and a nurse from the Royal Thai Navy's underwater and hyperbaric medicine unit, who have volunteered to stay with them for as long as it takes, even months.

High-energy food and rejuvenating mineral salts were given to them so they can rebuild their strength after 10 days with almost no food or fresh water, and at least four days of food supplies have been prepared and 70 oxygen tanks sent in, the officials said according to Bangkok Post. 

Experts have cautioned that taking inexperienced divers through the dangerous corridors of muddy, zero-visibility waters would be very risky.

Thailand's Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda acknowledged that getting the boys to dive their way out could be risky, but added that rescuers have already formulated an evacuation plan, including assigning two divers to escort each of the boys.

"Diving is not easy. Those who have never done it will find it difficult, because there are narrow passages in the cave. They must be able to use diving gear. If the gear is lost at any stage, it could be perilous," the minister said according to Bangkok Post.

The Thai authorities have appealed for donations of full-face scuba diving masks small enough to fit the boys in order to reduce the risk of their breathing apparatus coming loose as they travel through flooded passageways, the BBC reported.

"As rain is forecast in the next few days, the evacuation must be sped up. Diving gear will be used," said Gen Anupong according to Bangkok Post.

"If the water rises, the task will be difficult. We must bring the kids out before then," he said. 

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