Thai navy SEALs and rescue teams on Thursday continued to give crash courses in diving and swimming to the group of trapped young soccer players, hoping for a swift end to their harrowing ordeal. But the challenges could prove too burdensome for the boys.
"We know from our own rescue team that got in there and found them that it's a serious dive," Gary Mitchell, assistant chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council, told DW on Wednesday.
"It's a kilometer of flooded passages and round about an hour-and-a-half worth of diving that involves stopping and changing air tanks."
'Swim and dive'
Rescue divers on Tuesday found the 12 teenagers and their coach alive after they went missing in a Thai cave more than 10 days ago. But authorities said it was still unclear how long the boys would have to remain inside.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach entered the cave to celebrate a birthday. They became trapped when sudden rainfall flooded its entry on June 23. Similar incidents have befallen other visitors at the local tourist spot.
On Wednesday, Thai authorities provided food and medicine to the soccer group while experts assessed the conditions needed to evacuate them safely.
"The water is very strong and space is narrow. Extracting the children will take a lot of people," Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand's deputy prime minister, told reporters.
"Now we are teaching the children to swim and dive," he said, adding that if water levels subside, the Wild Boar soccer team would be taken out easily.
Another option would be to drill a hole into the cave and airlift the boys out. But authorities say they prefer the diving option.
Installing an internet connection
The rescue workers are also working on installing an fiber optic cable to allow the trapped children to communicate with their parents and the outside world.
According to Ratdao Chantrapul, the mother of one of the boys, the divers had "tried to take in mobile phones but the bag they were in broke."
While authorities are mulling over timelines for extracting the football team, observers have already drawn comparisons with the 2010 extraction of 33 trapped Chilean miners. The Chilean group spent 69 days underground before the rescue teams finished installing a lift that brought them outside.
One of the Chilean miners, Mario Sepulveda, said he was trying to organize a trip to Thailand to help with the rescue effort for the Thai boys.
"Stay strong!" Sepulveda told the children in a 40-second video, adding he was willing to help however he could.
Separately, he told the AFP news agency he was trying to contact members of the Chilean government to get funds for the journey.
"I think it's important as a country for us to be there, after what we miners went through," he said.
'No risk' will be taken
In a video released on Wednesday, the soccer players said they were in good health. The boys and their coach are seen sitting with Thai navy SEALs in the dark cave with their emaciated faces visible in the one-minute video.
Rescuers said they would not put the boys' lives in danger and would take "no risk" to free them.
"All 13 don't have to come out at the same time," Narongsak Osottanakorn, governor of Chiang Rai province, told reporters on Wednesday. "Who is ready first can go first."
Weerachon Sukondhapatipak, a government spokesman, said more preparations are needed to rescue the boys.
"Some of them can't swim, so therefore it will take time for them to adjust," he said.
"Officials would teach them how to move, how to dive, how to move their body under those circumstances," he added.
Somboon Sompiangjai told Reuters news agency that his son Peerapat, 16, could swim. He said he was confident that SEALs would eventually get the boys out.
"I am not worried if the kids have to swim and dive," he said. "I felt much better after seeing the clips with the children in good spirits, even though they were in there for 10 days."
shs/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP)