Two doctors have volunteered to stay with children trapped in a Thai cave for four months if floodwaters cut them off and make rescue attempts impossible, it has emerged.
A football coach and 12 ‘rake thin’ young players remain trapped in the Thamg Luang cave network in the country’s north as experts desperately try to come up with a plan to rescue them.
There are fears fresh rainfall over the next few days could add to flooding in the caves – meaning the boys, who cannot swim, may have to wait until the end of monsoon season in October before they can be brought to safety.
If that does happen, two of Thailand’s Navy doctors have already volunteered to stay in the underground chamber for as long as it takes in what is being described as a ‘huge sacrifice’.
British volunteer divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton were among those who struggled through narrow passages and murky waters to search for the boys, who were found starving but unhurt on an elevated rock on Monday.
A first meal of rice and pork – packaged up in sealed portions – is being prepared for the youngsters, who have already been given energy gels and paracetamol.
Seal commander Rear Adm Arpakorn Yookongkaew said a team of seven, including medics, are with the boys and looking after them after an underground headquarters was set up – stocked with diving equipment, food and medica
The 12 boys and their football coach found in a flooded cave in Thailand may have to learn to dive and make some of the swim to safety themselves amid fears of fresh rainfall in the next few days. They were found alive after nine days of desperate searching (pictured) supplies.
There are fears fresh rainfall over the next few days could add to flooding in the caves – meaning the boys, who cannot swim, may have to wait until the end of monsoon season in October before they can be brought to safety. Rescuers are pictured at the scene today
A first meal of rice and pork – packaged up in sealed portions – is being prepared for the youngsters, who have already been given energy gels and paracetamol. A huge international team of rescuers has assembled at the mouth of the cave
Volunteers prepare noodles for rescuers at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park. A team of rescuers has also reached the stranded boys with food parcels
Family members watch news about the rescue operation at a makeshift camp at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park
Fierce waters: A Thai rescuer walks near where water is pumped from the flooded cave after all 12 boys and their soccer coach were found alive
Rescuers are sent inside Tham Luang Nang Non cave network as rains continue to stream down raising fears the boys will be trapped for a long while
A Thai rescuer prepares oxygen tanks for diving after the 12 boys and their soccer coach were found alive in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province
British volunteer divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton were among those who struggled through narrow passages and murky waters to search for the boys, who were found starving but unhurt on an elevated rock on Monday
Teams have been pumping 10,000 litres of water out of the caves every hour. But this is only enough to lower the level by one centimeter and more rain is forecast sparking fears it will threaten the air pocket where the team has taken refuge.
One of the rescue options being considered is to teach the youngsters how to dive. But experts have questioned whether they will have the strength or ability to pick up the skills required in time.
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said the trapped youngsters, who were stranded for nine days before being found, may then have to negotiate some sections themselves where tunnels are only wide enough for one person to pass through at a time.
As rain is forecast in the next few days, the evacuation must speed up. Diving gear will be used. If the water rises, the task will be difficult. We must bring the kids out before then,’ he said, according to the Bangkok Post
‘Diving is not easy. Those who have never done it will find it difficult, because there are narrow passages in the cave. They must be able to use diving gear. If the gear is lost at any moment, it can be dangerous to life.’
Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said the health of the boys and coach – named as Ekkapol Janthawong – were checked using a field assessment in which red is critical condition, yellow is serious and green is stable.
Wild Boars: Who are the stranded players?
The boys are aged 11 to 16 and were on a trip with their 25-year-old coach, named as Ekkapol Chantawong, from their team Moo Pa – Thai for Wild Boar.
They have been named as:
Mongkol Boonpium, 13
Duangphet Promthep, 12
Pipat Phothai, 15
Nattawoot Thakamsai, 14
Adul Samon, 14
Somphong Jaiwong, 13
Chanin Wiboonroongrueng, 11
Phornchid Kamluang, 16
Prachuck Sutham, 14
Peerapat Sompiengjai, 16
Ekkarat Wongsookchan, 14
‘We found that most of the boys are in green condition,’ he said. ‘Maybe some of the boys have injuries or light injuries and would be categorised as yellow condition. But no one is in red condition.’
Rescuers have asked for the donation of 15 small full face masks. Experts have explained that these are easier for for beginners because they fully fit around a diver’s face while mouthpieces can be knocked out.
Ben Reymenants, a Belgian cave diver who is part of the international team NBC News’ TODAY that he was ‘very surprised obviously that they are all alive and actually mentally also healthy.’
He added: ‘They are actually quite responsive…but they are very weak and very skinny.
Reymenants said of those trapped in the cave and the rescue mission: ‘They can’t swim, so they definitely can’t dive…The easiest [option] would be that they [people trying to rescue those in the cave] keep pumping the water out of the cave.
‘They need another three or four feet so they can literally float them out with life jackets, but time is not on their side. They’re expecting heavy thunderstorms and rain which might flood the entire cave system, making the rescue impossible at that stage.’
If that does happen Reymenants said the boys and the coach could be expected to be in the cave for ‘up to 3-4 months.’ He added, ‘Two Thai Navy doctors have volunteered to be locked up inside the cave…a huge sacrifice.’
Rescuers have asked for the donation of 15 small full face masks. Experts have explained that these are easier for for beginners because they fully fit around a diver’s face while mouthpieces can be knocked out
One of the rescue options being considered is to teach the youngsters how to dive. But experts have questioned whether they will have the strength or ability to pick up the skills required in time
Foreign expert discuss with Thai Navy team members as they continue to plot a rescue operation after the 12 boys and their soccer coach were found alive
Teams have been pumping 10,000 litres of water out of the caves every hour. But this is only enough to lower the level by one centimeter and more rain is forecast sparking fears it will threaten the air pocket where the team has taken refuge. Foreign divers are pictured at the scene
A team of seven, including medics, are with the boys and looking after them after an underground headquarters was set up – stocked with diving equipment, food and medical supplies. Pictured: Rescuers at the scene
Rescue workers line up near Tham Luang cave complex on Tuesday as the operation to provide the boys with food and water continues
Public anticipation for the rescue has been high since Sunday, but officials avoided setting a timetable for the search and rescue operation. Pictured: Divers in the cave network where the boys are stuck
Two Thai rescuers were among those who dived to get provisions to the boys. Two Navy SEAL doctors have agreed to stay with the group as rescuers send them food to last four months
Rescue attempt: Rescuers have been pumping 10,000 litres of water every hour – but this is only enough to decrease levels by one centimetre every hour and heavy rains will come again tomorrow
This photograph of some of the boys smiling was released by a parent after hearing the news their child had been found
Thailand cave rescue: What now for the boys?
The rescuers dubbed it ‘mission impossible’ but they defied the odds to locate the 12 boys and their football coach deep in a cave complex. However the hard part may yet be ahead: getting them out safely.
Here are a few ways the hungry and weak boys could get out, none easy options:
Could they dive out?
In theory yes: but it is an extremely difficult task. Cave diving is already very risky, especially for young boys in a weakened state who have no diving experience.
Tham Luang cave where the boys have been trapped is one of Thailand’s longest at six miles and one of the hardest to navigate with its winding and at times narrow corridors.
If they dive, they have no choice but to follow the steps that rescuers took though tiny passageways clogged with mud and silt. That journey takes a healthy – and skilled – Navy SEAL diver about six hours.
Officials said they would attempt to train the boys to use crucial diving gear after they are rehabilitated with food, water and medical support.
‘Cave diving is a very technical skill and it’s extremely dangerous, especially for an untrained diver,’ Anmar Mirza, coordinator of the US National Cave Rescue Commission, told AFP.
‘So they may end up being better off trying to supply them in cave until they can be gotten out by other means.’
Bill Whitehouse, from the British Cave Rescue Council which is helping the rescue effort, said the boys may end up being guided through the water in ‘packages’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘In other words you fit them with diving equipment: a full face mask, instead of having a gag in your mouth like a lot of divers use; package them up; put the correct weights on them so that they are neutrally bouyant and are not going to get stuck again.’
Could they be dug out?
Explorers have spent days scouring the mountain top for possible alternative openings. They have found a few ‘promising’ leads and have tried to drill deeper.
But there is no indication that any of those chimneys connect to the chamber where the boys have been stranded.
Again, the boys need to spend time getting stronger in the depths of the cave before they can attempt to climb up a second entry – if one is found – or be lifted out.
What about walking out?
This would be the safest option, but at the moment it is impossible because parts of the route remain flooded. So in theory they could wait, but that means hoping that flood waters subside.
Water pumps are working around the clock to drain the floods though it has been an uphill battle for much of the week as heavy rains refused to let up. If the current break in bad weather sticks, this option could be more promising – but weather forecasters warn downpours may soon return as monsoon season sets in.
‘If the rain fills up the cave system then that might take months before the water drops again,’ Belgian diver Ben Reymenants, owner of Blue Label Diving in Thailand who is assisting the search, told AFP.
How long could it take?
Hard to say for sure. It depends how long it takes for them to regain strength. Experts say they could remain inside for weeks – or even months – as rescuers work out the safest option for their extraction.
The military said Tuesday it was preparing enough food for four months but did not speculate they could be in there that long.
Are the boys even in the right mindset to move?
They clearly want to leave. In footage that emerged after the boys were found by two British divers late Monday one asks to ‘go outside.’ One of the diver replies ‘I know, I understand… no, not today.’
Even if they are physically fit enough to dive, they will need the mental prowess to stay calm in the murky waters and claustrophobic passageways that stand between them and freedom. Fortunately, they seem in pretty good shape, considering.
‘They’re mentally stable which is actually pretty good,’ Reymenants said. ‘Luckily the coach had the sanity of mind to keep them all together, huddled together to conserve their energy, that basically saved them.’
Reymenants said rescue teams had to rely on a 30-year-old map made by French speleologists as they picked their way through the caves.
He told Sky News: ‘That was the only basis we had. It was pure speculation that they could be there in one of these two rooms. One is called Pattaya beach, and the other is another dry air pocket. It was all speculation and pure luck that they were there.’
He had earlier warned the boys could be cut off if the expected rains are severe.
‘Time is not on our side – we’re expecting heavy rain in three days’, he told BBC Newsnight on Monday. ‘If the cave system (floods) it would make access impossible to the kids.’
Edd Sorenson, of International Cave Rescue and Recovery, told BBC News that swimming out of the cave is ‘extremely dangerous’ and it would be safer for the boys to wait because they may panic in the water.
‘As long as the kids know we know where they’re at, they have food, a way to keep warm, water or filtration systems and light, it would really be the safest to wait it out.
‘Taking them in the water would be extremely dangerous for the kids and the coach – but also for the rescuers.’
The boys and their 25-year-old coach were found on a mud bank 6ft above the water level, 3 miles into the six mile network of caves.
They had been cut off when a flash flood from sudden heavy rain locked them in, with no shoes and no food and just one flash light which soon ran out.
The pair of British divers who found them were part of an increasingly desperate search mission launched after the group vanished when the caves they were exploring flooded on June 23.
Alive: The frightened youngsters were huddled together when the rescue team discovered them trapped in the flooded cave
The starving children were ‘too weak to eat’ and are now being treated at the scene by medics, according to Chang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn
Footage filmed by the rescuers emerged yesterday showing the starved schoolboys asking: ‘What day is it?’
News of the group all being found alive sparked scenes of jubilation across Thailand
, where the public has nervously waited for news of the team’s fate as family members held vigils praying for their rescue.
The emaciated and frightened boys were found perched on rocks deep in the cave in the north of the country.
Dramatic footage showed the moment two British divers, part of an international team of experts scouring the sprawling cave system for the group, first made contact.
Barely believing their success, one of the divers asked: ‘How many of you [are there]?’ When one boy replied ‘thirteen’, the rescuer exclaimed: ‘Thirteen? Brilliant!’
They reassured the group, who were huddled together with their coach with baggy football shirts pulled over their knees, that more help was on the way.
But hopes of a speedy resolution to the incident were on a knife-edge today due to the forecast rains.
Diver Mr Reymenants said he agreed with BBC interviewer Emily Maitlis’s assertion that the group could be trapped ‘for weeks to come yet until they are strong enough’.
‘None of them can swim or dive so that’s going to be a real challenge,’ he added.
Experts will meet today to start planning in detail how to extract the group from the place they were found more than a mile underground.
In the footage showing the moment they were found, one of the divers urges the group to stay calm and reassures them ‘many, many people are coming… we are the first’.
The trapped children’s responses reveal they had no idea what day it was or how long they’d been missing.
They asked the divers, named as Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, both global experts in rescue and recovery work in caves: ‘What day is it? What day you come help me?’
The rescuers replied: ‘Monday. One week and Monday. You have been here nine days. You are very strong, very strong.
‘Navy Seals will come tomorrow with food, doctor and everything. Today you have a light? We will give you more lights.’
Meanwhile family members of the missing rejoiced after hearing the news. They were pictured celebrating and hugging each other after the confirmation – a phone cable is being installed so they can speak to their children.
Family members smile after hearing the news that their missing boys have been found alive after a nine day search
A mother rejoices as she’s told her child will be coming home after being trapped in a flooded cave for more than a week
Worried family members have finally got peace of mind after being told their children are alive and will be coming home
Men embrace after hearing confirmation that their children have been found alive in a cave in northern Thailand
The boys, aged 11 to 16, are with their 25-year-old coach. They disappeared when flooding trapped them after entering the Tham Luang Nang Non cave on June 23
Aisha Wiboonrungrueng, the mother of missing 11-year-old Chanin, said she would cook her son a Thai fried omelette, his favourite food, when he returns home.
Their relief comes after a nine-day international search effort launched when the team went missing on June 23 inside the Tham Luang cave.
The boys are aged 11 to 16 and were on a trip with their 25-year-old coach from their team Moo Pa, Thai for Wild Boar. They disappeared when flooding blocked all of the cave’s entrances.
A Thai provincial governor has said that all 12 boys and their coach have been found alive in a cave after they went missing over a week ago
Thai soldiers carrying equipments inside the flooded cave complex during a rescue operation for the missing team
Narongsak said the passageway the divers were making their way through goes upwards in some places and downwards in others and is extremely narrow, making it difficult for divers to fit through with all their gear.
They were repeatedly blocked by rising water that has filled sections of the cave and forced them to withdraw for safety reasons.
When water levels dropped on Sunday, the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way.
A crowd of Thai school children are seen on the grounds of Mae Sai Prasitsart school, near Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province, following prayers for the missing boys
Thai Navy SEAL divers and rescue workers from other countries made initial progress through the narrow passageway yesterday
Thai soldiers carrying equipment inside the flooded cave complex during a rescue operation for the boys and their coach
Rescue divers spent much of yesterday making preparations for what ended up being the final push in their search in the cave in northern Thailand.
Chiang Rai’s governor said the divers had concentrated on securing a rope line and placing oxygen tanks along the narrow passageway that they thought would lead them to the boys.
Public anticipation for the rescue had been high since Sunday, but officials avoided setting a timetable for the search and rescue operation.
Other efforts focused on finding shafts on the mountainside that might serve as a back door to the blocked-off areas where the missing may be sheltering.
Experts in cave rescues from around the world continued to gather at the site and combined their resources. An official Australian group followed a US military team, British cave experts, Chinese lifesaving responders and several other volunteer groups from various countries.
Teams have been combing the mountainside looking for fissure that might lead to such shafts. Several have been found and explorers have been able to descend into some, but so far it is not clear whether they lead to anywhere useful
‘What day is it?’: Transcript reveals amazing moment rescuers reached football team who had no idea they had been trapped for nine days
A transcript of the conversation between rescue divers and the trapped children, who spoke to their British rescuers in broken English, revealed the youngsters had no idea what day it was or how long they’d been missing.
Rescuer: How many of you [are there]?
Rescuer: Thirteen? Brilliant!
Rescuer: There’s two of us…. we had to dive.
Rescuer: We’re coming, it’s ok. Many people are coming. We are the first.
Children ask what day it is
Rescuer: Monday. One week and Monday. You have been here 10 days. You are very strong, very strong.
Rescuers urge them to go back from edge of water. Divers then swim over to their side.
Rescuer 2: That is just the most amazing timing.
Children: What day you come help me?
Rescuer 1: We hope tomorrow.
Rescuer 2: Navy Seals will come tomorrow with food, doctor and everything. Today you have a light? We will give you more lights.
A lot of rummaging around and darkness.
Rescuer 1: We are happy too (in response to inaudible comment)
Children: Where you come from?
Rescuer 2: England, UK
The ‘A-Team of cave rescue’: Brits who left their very ordinary lives to lead operation to save youth soccer team stuck underground in Thailand and say they are ready to ‘make their peace’ if daring missions go wrong
By Keiligh Baker for MailOnline
The heroic British divers who were the first to reach a stranded group of 12 boys and their football coach in flooded caves in Thailand
are world leaders in cave rescue.
Retired firefighter Rick Stanton, from Coventry, and John Volanthen, an IT consultant from Bristol, joined the vast search after the group disappeared in the Luang Nang Non Cave, Chiang Rai province, on June 23.
It is not the first time the elite divers have joined forces for complex rescues. They both have established reputations as being among the best cave rescuers in the world, and were called upon by Thai authorities who were seeking expert help.
And in a revealing 2013 interview Mr Volanthen said: ‘If something goes wrong 10 kilometres down an underwater tunnel, you usually have until your air runs out to find a solution or make your peace.’
Bill Whitehouse, vice-chair of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC), described the British divers leading the mission as the ‘A Team’.45.’
A third British cave diver, Robert Harper, was also sent to Thailand by the BCRC, and the team has been joined by Vern Unsworth, a British cave explorer based in Chiang Rai, Reuters reported.
Diving lines laid down by the British cave divers will allow essential supplies to be ferried to the trapped boys.
Mr Stanton, who is in his 50s, previously said his greatest achievement was helping rescue trapped British soldiers from a cave in Mexico in 2004.
Regarded as one of the world’s leading cave rescue experts, he told publication Divernet that diving is a ‘hobby’ he does voluntarily.
Mr Stanton, who was made an MBE at the end of 2012, told the Coventry Telegraph at the time: ‘My biggest achievement was helping rescue the six soldiers.
‘They were trapped for nine days and we had to teach a few of them to dive through a considerable length of passage to get them out.
‘It took about nine hours to get them all out.’
He has said his toughest challenge was attempting to rescue accomplished French diver Eric Establie in 2010, whose remains were discovered in southern France.
It is believed the French government requested Stanton and Volanthen by name.
Mr Stanton said the 10-day mission was ‘a very dangerous dive and a very dangerous cave’, the paper reported.
Mr Volanthen, a keen marathon runner, was also Mr Stanton’s partner on the French rescue attempt, after the elite pair were flown out to help find Mr Establie.
Rick Stanton (pictured left, today) and John Volanthen (right) joined the vast search after the group disappeared in the Luang Nang Non Cave, Chiang Rai province, on June 23
Mr Stanton (pictured right) and Mr Volanthen (left). The elite divers have established reputations as being among the best cave rescuers in the world, and were called upon by Thai authorities who were seeking expert help
Both men were awarded a bronze medal from the Royal Humane Society in recognition of their rescue attempt in the Ardeche Gorge, southern France.
Mr Volanthen, an IT consultant in his 40s and based in Bristol, was also part of a British team with Mr Stanton which reportedly set a world record for a deep underwater cave dive in Spain in 2010.
The pair are members of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue team, and Mr Volanthen has described caving as requiring a cool head, saying: ‘Underwater, things happen slowly.
He told the Sunday Times magazine in 2013: ‘Panic and adrenaline are great in certain situations but not in cave-diving. What you want is nice and boring.
‘If something goes wrong 10 kilometres down an underwater tunnel, you usually have until your air runs out to find a solution or make your peace.’
In 2004 Mr Volanthen and Mr Stanton set a new record after cave-diving 76 meters (249ft).
The pair broke the previous record, set in 2003, by 5.5 metres (18ft) thanks to a breathing system they developed for the attempt at Wookey Hole in Somerset.
Mr Volanthen, originally from Brighton, attended Westminster University and has worked in Bristol for the past 20 years, according to his LinkedIn page.
Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen walk to the Tham Luang cave area at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 3, 2018 after finding the children
Mr Stanton is a firefighter from Coventry who was involved in the rescue of 13 cavers in Mexico in 2004. He and John Volanthen worked together on search and rescue ops around world
In a previous interview Mr Volanthen said he started caving as a scout.
He told the Sunday Times magazine: ‘I enjoy the logistical challenge.
‘Getting us and all our kit to the end of such a long cave… it’s like that puzzle with the fox, the chicken and the grain.
‘It’s not dangerous if you do it right. There are just a large number of little things that you have to be on top of at all times.’
Mr Stanton’s neighbour Tina O’Brien, 65, told MailOnline this morning: ‘He’s a very quiet man, very nice. He’s a retired firefighter and I know he’s into kayaking and potholing, so he’s away quite a lot.
‘We’ve been here 20 years and he’s been around on this street for as long as I can remember.
‘He actually rescued some British soldiers who were stuck in a cave in Mexico a few years back, and I think he’s got an MBE.
‘I’m not sure if he’s married, he might have a girlfriend. But like I said, I don’t know him that well.’
The British Cave Rescue Council – the body for voluntary underground rescue in the British Isles – said it has been in contact with the British divers since their return.
Rick Stanton (second from left), Robert Harper (third left with his back to camera) and John Volanthen (right) and an unidentified colleague (left) hold a meeting outside the cave system
Bill Whitehouse, the vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council, said the divers described the journey to the chamber as a ‘gnarly dive’.
‘The description in (the) email was it was ‘a bit of a gnarly dive’, which means there was a bit of complications and problems,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
‘(There was) quite a strong current, so they were having to swim against the current and pull themselves along the wall.
‘The visibility in the water wouldn’t have been very good.’
The BCRC said Stanton and Volanthen were working in Thailand in a voluntary capacity, and were ‘experts in low-visibility cave dives within small passages’.