The rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped deep in a Thailand cave could be brought forward to as early as this week in a bid to beat the threat of further flooding from approaching monsoon rains.
It was thought that the group, who have been trapped in the cave for 10 days, might be forced to remain underground for months before they could safely make their way out.
But the country’s interior minister, Anupong Paochinda, said on Wednesday morning (AEST) that the evacuation “must speed up” and be made as soon as possible before more rain falls and further floods the cave.
Mr Anupong told The Bangkok Post: “As rain is forecast in the next few days, the evacuation must speed up. Diving gear will be used. If the water rises, the task will be difficult. We must bring the kids out before then.”
The Minister acknowledged the difficulty of getting the members of the Wild Boars soccer team to dive out of the cave.
“Diving is not easy. Those who have never done it will find it difficult, because there are narrow passages in the cave,” he said.
“They must be able to use diving gear. If the gear is lost at any moment, it can be dangerous to life.”
Thailand is in the midst of its monsoon season and while Tuesday was relatively dry, heavy rains were expected to Wednesday.
Huge pumps have been installed to drain water from the cave complex, but any downpour could potentially hamper rescue efforts.
Mr Anupong’s comments were echoed by Major General Chalong Chai of the Thai army, who was quoted by Sky News as saying the rescue “will be in the coming days but as soon as possible because it is going to rain”.
“They will use the same masks as the divers, but they need more time to become more skilful,” General Chalong was quoted as saying.
“The boys are in good condition because they are sporty. I feel optimistic they will come out soon alive,” he said.
The boys and their coach, who were missing since June 23, were found about 12.45am on Tuesday (AEST) by two British divers in a drama that has gripped not only Thailand, but the world.
It is believed the boys do not know how to swim, which further complicates efforts to extract them from the cave.
The trapped boys were assessed by medial staff overnight and appear to have sustained only light injuries such as skin rashes.
Thai Navy SEALS spokesman Kamolroj Ekwattanakij told CNN that divers also took the weakened boys food – mainly grilled pork, sticky rice and milk.
The accelerated rescue plans come after Thai officials on Tuesday announced they would be delivering four months’ worth of food for the boys, sparking speculation that it could be quite some time before they see daylight again.
Officials were also installing a phone line in the cave so the parents could have some way of reconnecting with their sons.
Authorities initially said the retrieval of the group would only occur once conditions were “totally safe”.
“[We will] prepare to send additional food to be sustained for at least four months and train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water,” Navy Captain Anand Surawan said, in a statement from Thailand’s Armed Forces.
The provincial governor of Chiang Rai, Narongsak Osotthanakorn said on Tuesday that it as hard as it was for rescue teams to hack and dive through the cave, bringing the boys back through the same terrain would prove extremely difficult.
“We won’t bring them out until we find a totally safe way,” said Mr Narongsak, who is officially in charge of operations at the cave.
Experienced divers negotiated tight, flooded channels, often in pitch-black conditions to reach the boys.
Bill Whitehouse, vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council, told CNN “all feasible options for the rescue of the boys are being considered.”
Watch the first footage of the boys’ rescue:
Hooyah…..ทีมหมูป่าพบเยาวชนทีมหมูป่าบริเวณหาดทรายห่างจาก Pattaya beach 200 เมตร โดยนักดำน้ำหน่วยซีลดำน้ำวางไลน์เชือกนำทาง ร่วมกับนักดำน้ำจากประเทศอังกฤษ ระยะทางจากห้องโถง 3 ยาว 1,900 เมตร เมื่อเวลา 21.38 น. คืนวันที่ 2 กรกฎาคม 2561#ThainavySEAL
Posted by Thai NavySEAL on Monday, July 2, 2018