MAE SAI, Chiang Rai – Intensive efforts to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been trapped inside a flooded cave in Chiang Rai for three days hinge on pumping out water so that navy divers have headroom to operate, Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said on Tuesday.
Gen Anupong told reporters that Navy Seal divers leading the search for the missing are seriously handicapped by muddy water that filled some chambers of the Luang Cave to their ceilings.
He said the divers could proceed only when enough water has been pumped out so there is breathing space between the water and the ceiling.
Gen Anupong said that Tuesday’s goal was to be able to “reach the kids” and that rescuers would be working night and day.
“I want to confirm to the media that the Seal team will be working nonstop because it’s already dark here too,” he said. “So night and day doesn’t make a big difference. They’ll just need to rotate.”
About a dozen navy divers and other rescuers re-entered the partly flooded cave on Tuesday morning to search for the boys, aged 11-16, who have been missing since their coach took them to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex on Saturday after a practice match.
Divers have been seeking a way forward through the chambers of the cave complex, but have been forced to suspend their search several times. The authorities have also been seeking alternative ways in, using helicopters and search parties on foot to find holes that might exist in the ceilings of other parts of the cave.
Rain that fell overnight increased the difficulty of exploring inside the cave. However, the initial chambers near the cave’s entrance are dry, and a power line was extended inside to provide light and ventilation and help the divers communicate with those outside.
The boys and their 25-year-old coach entered the cave in Chiang Rai province late Saturday afternoon.
Luang Cave in Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, cut into a mountainside near the border with Myanmar, can flood severely during the rainy season, which runs from June to October, and there are warnings against exploring then.