Thai Soccer Team In Cave

Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center via AP

Experts: It Could Take Months To Get Thai Boys' Soccer Team Out Of Cave

July 03, 2018 - 6:49 pm

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- All 13 members of a boys’ soccer team have been found alive in a cave in Thailand, but experts say it could take months to get everyone out.

The boys were found by two British divers 10 days after they went missing inside an intricate cave system in northern Thailand. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," were the first words heard from the boys.

“Brilliant," one of the British rescuers responded as the boys confirmed that all 13 team members were present and accounted for, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Still in their soccer uniforms and huddled together just above flood waters, the boys asked for food, and then they wanted to know when they can go home. 

"Not today. Not today," the divers told them.

For the boys' parents waiting above ground, the news of their safety ended days of waiting and praying. The 12 boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach disappeared on June 23 after soccer practice. Their bikes and cleats were found just outside the caves. They apparently went in to explore and became trapped by flooding caused by heavy rain.

Now that rescuers have found the boys alive and in good condition, they are giving them high protein liquid food and antibiotics.

The Tham Luang Nang Non cave system stretches about six miles into a mountain. More than 1,000 first responders from around the world searched for 10 days. They had to go about two and a half miles from the cave system's entrance – through passages obstructed by thick mud and high water – just to find the group. They were located near a chamber known as Pattaya Beach, which has a higher elevation.

Capt. Jessica Tait with the U.S. Air Force was one of 35 Americans who helped in the rescue effort.

"Everyone is coming together to figure out the next course of action and how to bring them out as safely and as quickly as possible," Tait said.

Rescuers raced to pump out water from the cave Tuesday, as heavy rain is the forecast for the rest of the week. Thailand's rainy season lasts until October, and the cave is regularly flooded.
"It is not a hundred percent secure," the governor said Tuesday. "So I cannot give an answer to confirm how many days the kids will have to stay in the cave."

A Thai Navy SEAL team will make the final call on how they get the boys out. One option is to teach them to dive with special breathing masks. But the murky water is difficult to navigate even for experienced divers. There is low visibility in the caves and the floodwater can move fast.

“(A dive) is certainly a possibility, but it’s also probably the most dangerous and most risky, and it wouldn’t even be an immediate issue, because the kids are not strong enough to even attempt that, and they would need substantial amounts of training before they would even attempt it. So that would be several days at the very earliest to several weeks,” U.S. National Cave Rescue Commission Coordinator Anmar Mirza told WCBS 880’s John Metaxas.

One of the rescuer workers also said none of the boys know how to swim. The other option is to keep the boys in the cave until the water levels recede, which many experts say is the best option. But that means the boys could be in the cave for weeks if not months.

“A lot of it depends on which route they end up having to try to get them out,” Mirza said.

If the water levels come down, the boys could walk and crawl out, but such a procedure is weather-dependent, he said.

There is also a possibility of finding another entrance or even drilling into the cave, but both of those ideas might be unrealistic.

“Finding another entrance to the cave is less and less likely as time goes by, as they’ve already been looking for the last 10 days,” Mirza said. “Drilling an entrance in – while it sounds really good in practice – is actually almost impossible to do unless you have a very high-accuracy survey of where exactly you’re trying to drill into the cave, and when they have to go through hundreds of meters of rock, it’s difficult to hit a target like that without some type of very high-precision survey, which is currently not available.”

Whatever the case, it will take time for the boys to recover once they are rescued.

“Right now, they have two doctors who dove in and who are staying with them, which is good, because they’ll do everything that they can, but right now, the kids are very, very weak, and it’ll take several days before they eat solid food again, and it’ll probably take a couple of days to regain their strength,” Mirza said.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)