A desperate search and rescue operation is currently underway for 12 teenage members of a rural Thai football team believed trapped by rising flood waters in a cave in Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand.
The alarm was first raised on Saturday when a mother reported to police that her son had not returned home from soccer practice.
The bicycles of the boys, aged between 11 and 16, along with their 25-year-old coach, were subsequently found locked to a fence near the entrance of Tham Luang cave in Tham Luang Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, along with personal belongings such as backpacks, and shoes.
Search operations commenced Sunday and a Thai Navy Seals team was flown to the remote location, some 900 kilometres (about 559 miles) north of Bangkok close to the Myanmar border on Monday (June 25).
Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun is reportedly monitoring the rescue operations and has expressed his concerns, despatching representatives to support families and those involved.
Operating in almost zero visibility due to silt-filled water, rescue divers reported having to swim though murky water up to five meters (about 16.4ft) deep in a flooded section some seven kilometres (4.34 miles) in length to get to a chamber inside the cave.
Rain in the area yesterday saw the search suspended, with water subsequently rising to seven meters (23ft) deep this morning. A river running through the cave turned into a raging torrent, with amateur video posted online showing almost zero visibility due to mist generated by the turbulent water.
Authorities completed the stringing of a mains electricity supply more than 900 meters (2,952ft) into the cave early this morning (June 26) and planned to extend it three kilometres today, while all of Thailand’s digital service providers have tuned their aerials towards the search area to increase coverage for rescue crews. A 1,300 meter (4,265ft) ‘dropwire’ has been installed for landline communication.
Drones and Robots Join Cave Search
Video by NationTV22
Video by bectero TV/ Channel 3
Meanwhile hundreds of border patrol police and national parks rangers, supported by helicopters and two heat sensing drones are scouring the rugged bushland covering the cave for two reported ‘ceiling entrances’ in the hope that they may provide an alternate access.
Early today a team from King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok (KMUTNB) were flown by Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) plane to the cave with the two drones, along with an experimental Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) (an underwater robot).
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha went into a meeting with security and related agency officials immediately after landing at Don Mueang airport after returning from a European trade promotion trip, while Interior minister General Anupong Paojinda and tourism minister Weerasak Kowsurat are on-site providing ministerial oversight.
Officials are hopeful that the team are in safe spaces in the cave complex above the waterline, and air is being blown into the cave to increase oxygen levels as high capacity pumps attempt to drain water from the flooded section to provided the diving teams with headroom .
While divers reported finding children’s slippers, footprints and palm prints on the wall of the cave, as of sunset today there had been no success in finding the children or their coach.
Meanwhile, close to the sign that warns visitors not to enter without permission from park officials and of the danger of the cave flooding during the July-November wet season, the families of those inside wait, often in the rain, for information.
According to local media reports the search and rescue efforts inside the cave will continue through the night, with divers rotating in shifts as they search through its warren of tunnels and chambers for the missing Thai teens.
Feature video Thai PBS
- Divers Search Flooded Cave In Thailand For 12 Missing Boys And Their Soccer Coach (npr)
- Flooding complicates Thai cave rescue operation (itv)
- Anupong: Rescue success hinges on drainage (Bangkok Post)
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.
He has covered major world events including the 1991 pillage riots in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010 and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post.