A football team of boys and their coach have been found alive after going missing in a cave in northern Thailand.
The group of 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were suspected to be trapped in the cave since Saturday June 23 after being cut off from the entrance by rising flood levels.
Thailand’s provincial governor reported that all 12 members of the football team and the coach have been found with signs of life by Thai Navy SEAL divers, following an intense search for the group.
As the relentless amount of water flooding the caves receded, divers were able to close in on an elevated dry area in the caves called Pattaya Beach this morning, where they thought the group might have taken shelter.
The group were first realised to be missing when a park officer spotted bicycles by the entrance to the cave complex, despite it being off-limits. There were also signs warning of danger in the rainy season, which is just beginning in the area.
The group had reportedly visited the caves before, and were believed to have entered the series of caves on Saturday through a narrow, 15-metre-long channel. Some of the boys’ bags and shoes were found inside the cave.
Miserable conditions at the entrance to #Thamluangcave. Thai navy divers have stopped searching – water levels have risen to fill most caves. Pumping has stopped – too much rain. Authorities say they will rethink strategy for finding missing boys. pic.twitter.com/gWFeFgj7xD
— Jonathan Head (@pakhead) June 28, 2018
A warning was issued on Wednesday by Senior Thai government officials to say that time was running out for the football team and coach as water in the caves continued to rise.
With water levels rising, the entrance to the cave flooded and divers had to abandon their search for the group, leaving the search operation to look for alternative ways of getting into the cave, BBC News reports..
Trekking teams took to the forest to search for alternative entrances to the caves, but it was slow work through the thick terrain. The dive was able to resume on Thursday.
The amount of water made it difficult to pump from the caves, as Sgt Kresada Wanaphum from the Thai army explained, saying:
Water is the biggest challenge. There is a lot of debris and sand that gets stuck while pumping.
Tham Luang is Thailand’s fourth longest cave, and experts had suggested there may be other entrances to the cave system, though it is hard to spot them in the forest-covered mountainside.
The children sent messages before leaving for the caves which suggested they had taken food and torches with them.
Joshua Morris, who runs caving and climbing tours in northern Thailand, spoke to the BBC about the difficulties of exploring the flooded cave.
What flooded is a narrow passage about 2km (1.4 miles) into the cave. If the kids are on the other side of that, they might be in a higher chamber which is still dry.
Being trapped in a cave like this is probably one of the most horrific things one could experience.
Diving in a cave like this is very dangerous. The water is moving, it’s muddy and there is almost no visibility. That means the children – if found alive – might have be supplied for longer time until the water can be brought back down.
The heavy rain halted the efforts of helicopters from identifying other entrances to the caves.
Around 1,000 army, navy, local administrative workers and volunteers were at the site to assist in the search, as well as three British cave divers and some US military personnel. They all pitched in to help locate the group of boys.
Relatives of the group began gathering around the cave entrance on Saturday evening. The local government set up a makeshift tent camp as the families anxiously waited for updates.
Doing everything they could from the outside, the families drew on traditional Thai rituals to give them strength through the difficult time, offering flowers and food to guide the spirits, hoping they would guide their children out of the caves.
Thankfully, their prayers have been answered.
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