BANGKOK (Reuters) – US forces and British divers have arrived in Thailand to help Thai rescue workers in the search for the 12 schoolboys and their football coach trapped by floodwaters in the Tham Luang cave.
They will drill a narrow shaft into a cave where schoolboys and their football coach are believed to be trapped by flood waters.
The search, which entered into the fifth day, has been hampered by heavy rain.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach, went missing on Saturday after football practice when they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex, even though it is known to be prone to flooding in the rainy season.
Thai volunteers and military teams, including 45 navy SEAL unit members, have been deployed at the flooded cave complex, which runs 10 kilometers under a mountain in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
“We can drill into the mountain but we won’t drill too deep. Just enough to allow people through,” Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters.
While distraught relatives and friends gathered at the mouth of the cave, rescue workers pumped out water, but persistent heavy rain in Chiang Rai has slowed their progress.
Exhausted relatives have been camped out near the cave’s entrance for days desperately awaiting news about the missing team and their coach.
“Water is the biggest challenge. There is a lot of debris and sand that gets stuck while pumping,” Army officer Sergeant Kresada Wanaphum said.
Nothing has been seen or heard of them since Saturday evening, and the race to find them has dominated Thai news in the past days.
“I’m confident all are still alive,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.
The US military sent a search and rescue team at the request of the Thai government which has also asked for survivor detection equipment.
Border guards with police dogs scoured the site for new openings into the cave which is a popular draw for local visitors during the dry season, a sign at the entrance warns tourists not to enter during the wet season from July to November.