For coming on four days a dozen Thai teenagers between 11 and 16 years of age and their 25 year old coach have been trapped inside a large cave system called Tham Luang on the border of Myanmar after they entered Saturday after practice and heavy rains flooded the caverns while inside.
In the past 24 hours officials have brought in underwater drones and robotic vehicles to attempt to circumvent the caverns which stretch for many kilometres and consist of multiple caverns, passages and areas, some flooded and some not. The Thai Navy’s Underwater Assault Force, their version of the Navy Seals with training from the US Military have been leading the desperate search for the group.
Water pumps have been brought in and set up and have managed to drain water from roughly the first kilometre of the cavern. Officials state this is critical for the Navy Divers to be able to reach deeper unflooded levels of the caves where the team is still believed to be alive, however, after four days time is quickly running out. The reason this is critical is due to zero visibility from mud and debris as well as the size of the cave limits the amount of time the divers can safely submerge. Divers have managed to get to about 4km in so far and hopefully will expand to 5 to 6km today. There has still been no sign of the team in person, however, shoes, handprints and footprints have been found which clearly show the team managed to make it deeper into the complex during the flooding, staying ahead of the rains.
The Tham Luang cave system is in a national park and is a tourist attraction, however, is closed every year during the rainy season from May to October. Signs and warnings were posted at the entrance where the teams bicycles and gear still sit, abandoned, after four days.
The parents and families of the team continue to wait outside the cavern, hoping for a miracle, praying and conducting several rituals that hopefully will provide them with luck per their religion. Relatives performed a morning ritual for the third day in a row today in which they called out for the missing. They played drums and gongs and two relatives held fishing nets as a symbolic way to fish out lost spirits from the cave.
The military has also allowed foreign volunteers, including well known spelunkers that live locally in Chiang Mai to assist as they have extensive experience mapping and exploring the cave. Park officials have stated that this is not the first time people have been trapped in the cavern during flooding and in the past they have managed to escape when the waters receded.
We will provide a further update later today as teams continue to move further in. Two shafts were discovered on the mountain by search teams in the past twelve hours, however, despite a brief glimmer of hope, do not give complete access to the complex. Military officials have considered drilling into the mountain as well but time is quickly running out.