Long rescue ahead for Thai cave boys

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This photo taken and released by the Royal Thai Navy on July 2, 2018 shows an emaciated and bedraggled youth soccer team crammed onto a wedge of dry ground surrounded by water deep inside Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province. AFP

MAE SAI (AFP) – Rescuers braced for a long and difficult evacuation for 13 members of a Thai youth football team found alive in a cave nine days after they went missing, as food and medicine was shuttled to them though muddy waters yesterday.

The 12 young boys and their football coach were discovered rake thin and hungry on a mound of mud surrounded by water late Monday, ending the agonising search that captivated a nation.

But the focus quickly shifted to the tricky task of how to evacuate them safely from the still-flooded caverns.

Much-needed food and medical supplies – including high-calorie gels and paracetamol – reached them yesterday as rescuers prepared for a prolonged extraction operation.

The Thai military said it is providing months’ worth of food and diving lessons to the boys to help them out of the waterlogged Tham Luang network in the country’s monsoon-drenched north.

“(We will) prepare to send additional food to be sustained for at least four months and train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water,” Navy Captain Anand Surawan said.

He refused to say how long they might be trapped, but experts said it could take weeks or even months.

The astonishing rescue sparked jubilation across Thailand after the country mounted a massive and gruelling operation beset by heavy downpours and fast-moving floodwaters. Relatives – and much of Thailand – exploded with relief and jubilation on getting the news the team were alive and safe.

The boys were discovered at about 10 pm Monday by British divers some 400 metres from where they were believed to be stranded several kilometres inside the cave.

The harrowing task of getting the boys out is complicated by the fact that they are in a weak state and are not experienced divers.

The rugged and wet kilometres-long course toward the entrance take a healthy SEAL diver six hours.

The priority is to get the team’s strength up before they start the tricky journey out, officials said, reluctant to offer a concrete timeline.

The “Wild Boar” team became trapped on June 23 after heavy rains blocked the cave’s main entrance.

Rescuers found their bicycles, football boots and backpack near the cave’s opening, and spotted handprints and footprint further in – leading them to the spot they were eventually found.

Tham Luang cave is one of Thailand’s longest, winding 10 kilometres and is also one of the toughest to navigate – especially in the wet months.

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