July 5 (UPI) — Rescuers trying to free 12 boys and their soccer coach in a flooded Thailand cave are racing to get the water pumped and the children freed before more rain arrives.
Two British volunteer divers found the missing boys Monday after a nine-day search. Seven members of Thailand’s navy, including two medics, are working with the pair to free the boys.
Torrential rains are expected Sunday that could force more water into the pocket where they’re stranded, on a rock shelf about 2.5 miles from the cave entrance.
“What we worry about most is the weather,” Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn told reporters. “We can’t risk having the flood back into the cave.”
Osotthanakorn said officials are calculating how much time is left if it rains, “how many hours and days.”
The cave complex regularly floods until September or October, meaning it’s possible the boys could be trapped for months.
The water had been reduced by 40 percent the last few days, clearing part of the chamber so the team can walk out wearing life jackets, said an official with Thailand’s interior ministry.
Officials say most, if not all, the boys don’t know how to swim. At a news conference Wednesday, Osatanakorn said they’ve been practicing diving procedures and breathing.
Diving out would be risky. It takes experienced divers about 3 hours from the cave entrance to reach the team, the British Cave Rescue Council said.
“There’s air pockets along the way,” said Gary Mitchell, the group’s assistant vice chairman. “It’s confined spaces. It’s almost zero visibility. There’s currents to battle against in places as well. So it’s a really quite a strenuous environment to be in.”
The boys have received medical care and foil warming blankets, and were able to send messages to their families to let them know they’re in “good health.”