Advertisement
World

Rescuing boys soccer team stuck in Thai cave could take months — a look at the risky options

ABOVE: Video shows moment rescuers reach missing boys in Thai cave

Now that the missing Thai soccer team has been found, the next step is determining how to get the boys and the coach safely out of a partly flooded cave in northern Thailand.

READ MORE: Boys soccer team found alive in Thai cave may have to dive despite danger, official

A look at the options and why extracting the 12 boys and the coach could take some time:

The cave is huge

Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province stretches under a mountainside for up to 10 kilometres, much of it a string of narrow passageways that lead to wide chambers and then back to narrow passageways.

Map of Tham Luang cave where 12 Thai boys and their football coach were trapped for nine days due to the flood and found alive.
Map of Tham Luang cave where 12 Thai boys and their football coach were trapped for nine days due to the flood and found alive. AFPTV

The rocky and muddy ground makes several changes in elevation along the way. The British Cave Rescue Council, which has members taking part in the operation, estimates the boys are around two kilometres into the cave and somewhere between 800 meters to one kilometre below the surface. Other estimates put the boys as far as four kilometres into the cave.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Teams face extraordinary obstacles in Thailand cave rescue

Teams face extraordinary obstacles in Thailand cave rescue
Teams face extraordinary obstacles in Thailand cave rescue

WATCH: Rescuers plan to send food to boys in Thailand cave while attempting to figure out how to free them

Rescuers plan to send food to boys in Thailand cave while attempting to figure out how to free them
Rescuers plan to send food to boys in Thailand cave while attempting to figure out how to free them

The cave is flooded

Finding the boys took more than nine days, partly because of how difficult it is to move around the cave. The cave floods during Thailand’s rainy season and even elite Thai navy SEAL divers were finding it difficult to move through the muddy waters, currents and tight passageways.

READ MORE: Rescuers locate 12 missing boys, soccer coach trapped in Thai cave for 9 days

Safety first

Thai authorities say they are committed to “100 per cent safety” when they consider how to extract the boys, who don’t appear to be in urgent need of medical evacuation. Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said: “We worked so hard to find them and we will not lose them.”

WATCH: Cave rescue expert explains why Thai operation to save soccer team could still take months

Cave rescue expert explains why Thai operation to save soccer team could still take months
Cave rescue expert explains why Thai operation to save soccer team could still take months

According to Anmar Mirza, national coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Commission in the U.S. and editor of the book Manual of U.S. Cave Rescue Technique, the main decision is now whether to try to evacuate the boys or to supply them in place.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Thai cave rescue: How risky is it to bring the boys out by SCUBA diving?

Thai cave rescue: How risky is it to bring the boys out by SCUBA diving?
Thai cave rescue: How risky is it to bring the boys out by SCUBA diving?

Supplying them in place

This is possibly the safest option. It would involve bringing food and other supplies to the boys and waiting for water levels to drop, naturally or by pumping out water, or until rescuers can find or create another exit. This could take anywhere from days to weeks to even months as the rainy season typically lasts through October.

WATCH: Emergency workers celebrate Thai cave rescue

Emergency workers celebrate Thai cave rescue
Emergency workers celebrate Thai cave rescue

READ MORE: Rescuers cling to hope as search for boys, coach trapped in Thai cave continues

The Thai navy is already doing this short-term, sending teams with high-protein liquid food to feed the boys, keep them company and explore the cave infrastructure where they are to ensure it is safe. The navy said medics will be sent to help and improve conditions in the cave.

The danger of staying put

More monsoon rains are on the way. After a break in the weather in recent days, the Thai Meteorological Department forecast for Chiang Rai calls for light rain through Friday followed by heavy rain starting Saturday and continuing through July 10. Such storms could raise water levels in the cave again and complicate the supply missions or any potential extrication, if one was needed.

Story continues below advertisement
LISTEN: Anmar Mirza speaks with Global News Radio 640 Toronto guest host Chris Chreston

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said as a result of the forecast, the boys may need to swim out using diving gear. He said they would be brought out via the same complicated route through which their rescuers entered.

In this grab taken from video provided by the Thai Navy Seal, a view of the boys and their soccer coach as they are located in a cave, in Chiang Rai in Thailand, Monday, July 2, 2018.
In this grab taken from video provided by the Thai Navy Seal, a view of the boys and their soccer coach as they are located in a cave, in Chiang Rai in Thailand, Monday, July 2, 2018. Thai Navy Seal via AP

Creating another entrance

Along with the search efforts inside the cave, rescuers have searched on the mountainside for possible ways into the caverns below. Authorities said those efforts will continue. Backhoes and drilling equipment were sent to the mountain, but creating a shaft large enough to extract the boys would be extremely complicated and could take a long time.

The British Cave Rescue Council said the boys are “located in a relatively small space and this would make any potential drilling attempt as a means of rescue very difficult.”

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Parents, relatives of Thai boys trapped in cave celebrate after rescuers find group

Parents, relatives of Thai boys trapped in cave celebrate after rescuers find group
Parents, relatives of Thai boys trapped in cave celebrate after rescuers find group

Diving them out

Diving would be the fastest, but arguably most dangerous, extraction method. Mirza said that “trying to take non-divers through cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy.” By all accounts, the dives into the cave have been a challenge.

Experts in caving and diving needed days to reach the boys. Getting the boys out could go faster due to the installation of dive lines, extra oxygen tanks left along the way and glow sticks lighting the path. Still, the British Cave Rescue Council said, “Any attempt to dive the boys and their coach out will not be taken lightly because there are significant technical challenges and risks to consider.”