The hopes and prayers of the Thai nation are focused on a desperate race against time and nature to rescue 12 young football players and their coach believed trapped alive inside a flooded cave in Mae Sai, northern Thailand.
Overnight rescue divers were forced to suspend search activities as water inside Tham Luang Cave continued to rise faster than high-volume pumps could drain it away, with water inside the cave now believed to fill its four chambers. With water continuing to rise in the cave entrance electricity was disconnected for safety reasons, and personnel and equipment evacuated.
With day six of the search and rescue operation at the flooded cave drawing to a close with little progress, weary Thai Navy Seals, parks rangers, and border patrol police continue to strategise new ways of getting to a point deep inside the cave known as ‘Pattaya Beach’, where it is hoped that the boys and their coach have found somewhere safe above the water filling the flooded cave.
The bad news comes after three foreign cave-divers from the United Kingdom (UK) arrived at the search and rescue site late yesterday afternoon.
Search operations suspended
Flown from London to Thailand by Thai Airways International (Thai), the trio, Jason Mallinson, Rick Stanton, and John Volanthen — widely regarded as the best in their field globally — brought specialised underwater cave rescue equipment with them to reinforce the teams currently at work.
A US Navy dive team also arrived at the flooded cave this morning, after arriving in Thailand overnight from Hawaii.
According to reports from Tham Luang Cave the amount of silt and mud in the turbid water is making underwater search operations impossible, frequently blocking the pumps.
Thai Navy Seals reported on social media that visibility is so poor that they can barely see the stalagmites and stalactites lining the inside of the cave, with the slow progress limiting how far the divers can proceed before running out of air.
The same turbid water conditions are also hampering the effectiveness of a Remotely Operated underwater Vehicle (Rov) developed by the Center of Excellent for Astronautical and Marine Engineering (Casme), Science and Technology Research Institute (STRI) at King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok (KMUTNB).
Developed with the support of Thai industry, the ROV contains a sonar for detection and localisation of underwater objects, an inertial measurement unit (IMU) for motion tracking and localisation accuracy, and an underwater video camera.
However, according to the team, the water conditions inside the flooded Cave are so forceful and turgid that even its highly sophisticated underwater drone cannot function.
Similarly, persistent heavy rain is limiting the use of three KMUTNB drones equipped for aerial surveying.
|Scenes from yesterday at the search site in Mae Sai, northern Thailand Video ROTSARIN CHAMRATSRI|
Despite the set-backs authorities remain hopeful that the Thai football team made it to Pattaya Beach.
Throughout the day ‘percussion’ drilling equipment was moved into place with plans to try and bore a hole through the mountain to a spot close to where it is hoped the team might be. A camera will then be inserted for a look. It is thought that up to 100 metres (328ft) a day can be drilled.
Meanwhile at the entrance to the flooded cave a row of first-aid tents stand stocked with an arsenal of medical devices, equipment, and trained personal ready to treat injured rescue workers, or the the football team.
Paying close attention to the search and rescue operation is the Thai Royal Family.
After dispatching a representative on Tuesday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun yesterday ordered a kitchen established to provide free food for rescue workers, the families of those believed trapped inside the flooded cave, and media reporting on the search and rescue activities. Princess Chulabhorn meanwhile granted a Bt500,000 ($15,153) fund to purchase medical supplies and other necessities needed by search team personal.
Tales of spirits and ghosts
Outside the cave entrance the families of the missing teen football players perform Buddhist chanting and other ‘traditional’ ceremonies, overnight some shouting the names of their children into the cave and calling on them to return.
While Thai social media channels are flooded with messages of support and encouragement for the rescue teams searching the flooded cave, they are also awash with tales of ghosts and spirits inhabiting the cave.
According to one local legend the meandering ten kilometre (6 miles) long cave complex is home to the spirit of a Myanmar Princess thirsting for revenge, the undulating layout said to resemble the body shape of the young pregnant princess who died along with her young lover, after being pursued into its depths by palace guards.
Feature video Top News Thailand
Feature photo Akkapol Chanthawong
- Drilling to start Thursday night at cave in search for missing footballers (The Nation)
- Prayut to visit flooded cave for moral support (Bangkok Post)
- Thai cave: Rising water stops divers searching for missing boys (BBC)
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage 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, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
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