CHIANG RAI – Somsak Khanakham, chief of Mae Sai district, said that on the 4th day rescue teams are still racing against time to find the 12 missing football players and their coach at the Tham Luang cave in Tham Luang Khun Nam Nang Noon Forest Park in Chiang Rai province.
The Navy Seals were the main rescue team, he said, with other teams from a border patrol police unit and the national park surveying the area on foot to find an alternate entrance into the caverns.
Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said local authorities may drill into the mountain if necessary.
Paithoon Nakthae, director of the disaster prevention and mitigation office, said divers from Sweden joined local Thai divers to search for the missing people as the rescue operation entered the fourth day.
Water levels inside the cave rose to almost 7 metres after rainfall on Tuesday morning. Thongplew Kongchan, director-general of the Irrigation Departgment, said more water pumps would be installed to pump out water from the flooded cave.
Navy Lt Naponwath Homsai said the divers will enter the water after they reach a chamber farther inside that was flooded almost to its ceiling on Monday. “We hope that the water level has gone down but we will have to see. Today we will try to find passages which are under the water that hopefully will lead to other chambers.”
The sprawling cave complex extends several kilometers and has wide chambers and narrow passageways with rocky outcrops and changes in elevation. Still, officials have said they are hopeful the boys found a safe space away from the floods.
The boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach were believed to have entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province late Saturday afternoon.
A mother of one of the athletes reported that her son did not return from football practice that day, setting off the search.
Rising waters Monday evening frustrated efforts to search farther in the cave, and the efforts were halted temporarily.
During the night, rescue teams and electricians extended a power line 1 kilometer into the cave.
“We hope this would provide lights for work and fans for ventilation for the Seal team,” Chiang Rai Gov Narongsak Osottanakorn said. “Also, it means we can use electric engines to pump water out from the cave as well.”
Parents waited overnight in tents outside the cave entrance as rain poured.
Medics sat in a tent nearby, and the bicycles, backpacks and football cleats the boys left behind remained at the entrance.
Namhom Boonpiam, whose 13-year-old son Mongkol is among the missing, said she had been waiting at the entrance since Saturday night.
“I haven’t slept and I hope that all of them can come out, all safe and sound,” she said. “My son is a strong boy. I still have hope.”
Authorities have said footprints and hand prints were found inside the cave complex, and that tourists trapped there by past floods have been rescued after the waters receded.
Officials are hopeful there are still safe spaces in the cave complex despite the flooding, Chiang Rai Deputy Governor Passakorn Bunyalak told the news conference.
Chiang Rai authorities have closed roads leading to the cave and told people to stay away from the area so rescue attempts won’t be hampered.
Television broadcasts have crowded the site and the jammed communication lines are causing additional difficulties for the rescue teams.
Chiang Rai Deputy Governor Passakorn Bunyalak has asked volunteers who do not have full access to information, not distributing inaccurate updates on the search as it could confuse both relatives of the missing athletes and the public.