Youths trapped in Thai cave not ready to dive out, governor says

Rescue teams thrashed through dense forest hundreds of metres above a cave complex on Friday, searching for an alternative way to extract 12 boys and their soccer coach, who are not yet ready to make the risky dive out.

'I believe we are close,' official says after team travels 300 metres down shaft

Governor says they are still working hard, trying to determine which plan is safest 0:39

Rescue teams thrashed through dense forest hundreds of metres above a cave complex on Friday, searching for another way to extract 12 boys and their soccer coach, who are not yet ready to make the risky dive out.

Their work above the Tham Luang cave near Thailand's northern border with Myanmar took on added urgency as forecasts for rain threatened a plan to bring the boys back through cramped, waterlogged passageways to the cave entrance.

Trying to rescue the team, who have been trapped deep in the cave complex since June 23, has proven to be deeply complicated. 

Gov. Narongsak Osottanakor told reporters late Friday night that there are concerns about both weather and oxygen levels, but that they want to minimize risk as much as possible. But the boys, he said, are not yet ready to make the dive out.

Rescue efforts since British divers found the team on Monday have focused on draining the flooded cave and teaching the boys, some of whom are reported to be weak swimmers, to attempt dives that would challenge expert cavers.

Situation is serious

Helicopters buzzed overhead Friday before flying to the dense blanket of green hills above the cave to help look for another extraction route.

Earlier in the day Thanes Weerasiri, president of the Engineering Institute of Thailand, told Reuters that "we want to find the way down. I believe we are close."

The situation is serious, as concerns about potential rain and dwindling oxygen levels mount.

"We can no longer wait for all conditions [to be ready] because circumstances are pressuring us," Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew, the Thai SEAL commander, told a news conference earlier in the day.

"We originally thought the boys can stay safe inside the cave for quite some time, but circumstances have changed. We have limited amount of time."

Inserting oxygen line

Oxygen levels are decreasing because of the amount of workers inside the cave. Workers were trying to run an oxygen line into the chambers in addition to the scuba tanks used by divers, Osatanakorn said late Thursday.

A senior army commander, Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakam, said the most pressing mission is the oxygen line. It is tied to a telephone line to provide a channel of communication for the kids, who are stuck deep in the complex but are being looked after by four SEALs, including a medic.

Thai divers gather before they enter to the Tham Luang cave, where 12 boys and their soccer coach remain trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, on Friday. Authorities were waiting for two big groups of volunteer divers to arrive later Saturday and Sunday to begin the operation of bringing the team members out. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

The death of Saman Gunan, former petty officer first class, early Friday morning during an underwater swim to drop extra oxygen tanks in the partly flooded cave struck a particularly deep chord with Thais, because he was a volunteer on a humanitarian mission that has riveted the nation. 

Thanes's engineers are working with the army to explore an area they believe to be the back end of the cave, chiselling away fragile limestone rocks that he said could be just hundreds of metres from where the boys are trapped.

"Originally we were exploring it as a way to bring supplies to the children from the back end of the cave, but now it could become more," said Thanes.

Former Navy SEAL was putting tanks along potential escape route for trapped children 1:03

Chalongchai Chaiyakum, a senior Thai army officer, said that one team travelled some 300 metres down a shaft on the hill on Thursday until they reached a dead end.

He said that up to 200 people are exploring the hill to try to find a workable shaft.

The muddy bank where the boys are stranded is some four kilometres from the front entrance of the cave, with sections of the final 1.7-kilometre stretch completely underwater.

Drilling down raises concerns that parts of the cave could collapse on the boys. Efforts to widen diving channels have raised similar fears about blocking narrow passageways and hemming the team in.

The body of Saman Gunan, a former Thai navy SEAL who died during an overnight mission, is carried during a religious ceremony at Chiang Rai Airport on Friday. (Associated Press)

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that engineers from his firms — SpaceX and the Boring Company — were heading to Thailand to see if they could assist the rescue.

The firms have "advance ground penetrating radar" that is "pretty good at digging holes" or technology that could "create an air tunnel underwater" for the children to traverse, Musk said earlier.

The Thai government said Musk's team could help the rescue operation with location tracking, water pumping or battery power.

Relatives of the boys, some of whom have camped at the site since the team became trapped, say all they want is the safest exit for their children.

"I'm worried… he has never dived," said Somboon Kaewwongwan, the father of a 16-year-old boy trapped in the cave.

(CBC)

With files from The Associated Press