The boys were found safe and well. Picture: Thai Navy Seal via AP
The boys were found safe and well. Picture: Thai Navy Seal via AP

Shocking state of trapped boys' cave

THE Australian rescue mission to save the 12 boys and their soccer coach who are trapped in Thailand is proving difficult as police divers battle low visibility and tight areas within the cave system.

Detective Superintendent Thomas Hester said the team of six divers from the Australian Federal Police faced "incredibly challenging" conditions.

The 12 boys and their soccer coach were found alive deep inside the flooded cave in northern Thailand early this morning. They had been missing for nearly 10 days

The priority now was getting food to the trapped boys and evacuating them safely from the cave, Detective Superintendent Hester said.

There was no indication of how long the rescue mission would take, but the AFP are looking at a "longer-term option", he said.

"Our Specialist Response Group dive team have been diving shortly after arrival (in Chiang Rai) and one of the difficulties they face is a very flooded cave system, it's very difficult to see and move through that system.

"There are a lot of small, tight areas where larger size people, especially with equipment, may have trouble moving through."

Detective Superintendent Hester said it would be extremely difficult for the divers to bring the boys back with them.

"The ability to try to pull the boys through those areas with any diving equipment is incredibly challenging," he said.

From an engineering perspective, the Thai authorities have been looking at whether or not they can drill down from the surface into the chamber, Detective Superintendent Hester said.

Boys could be trapped for months

THE 12 Thai schoolboys and their football coach had not seen the outside world, or another human being, in 10 days.

Overnight, as they huddled together in the dark, starving and terrified, the Thai navy burst into the flooded cave they were stuck in.

The world cheered the amazing footage, which showed the incredible moment the boys were found safe and well.

Despite that joyful moment, it is far from over for the young boys. In fact, an Australian cave diving expert has warned that the group may be trapped inside the cave for months.

The navy will now teach the boys how to dive, in order to evacuate them from the complex underground system.

Four months' worth of food has been brought in to complete the rescue.

Cave Divers Association of Australia national director Peter Wolf told The Guardian the boys would not be able to exit the cave anytime soon as they are unable to swim.

"The length of the cave and the conditions that they're actually diving in means there are probably very few people on the planet who can actually get those provisions to them," he said.

"But the cave divers they've got over there are some of the most experienced in the world, especially when it comes to search and rescue operations."

Thailand's Army Chief says the boys must to learn how to dive, otherwise they risk waiting months for waters to recede.

The boys aged between 11 and 16, were discovered with their 25-year-old coach late Monday, rake thin but alive, huddled on a ledge deep inside a flooded cave nine days after they became trapped in a pitch black cave hemmed by rising floodwaters.

Much-needed food and medical supplies -- including high-calorie gels and paracetamol -- reached them Tuesday as rescuers prepared for the possibility that they may be there for some time.

"(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, according to a statement from Thailand's Armed Forces.

The miracle rescue sparked jubilation across the country after a gruelling operation beset by heavy downpours and fast-moving flooding floods.

"We called this mission impossible because it rained every day... but with our determination and equipment we fought nature," Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said Tuesday.

"The doctor advised that we should provide several kind of medicine to prevent infection and other illness," adding that medics had reached the young footballers.

The boys were found late Monday by British divers, with footage showing them emaciated and huddled on a mud mound deep inside the cave.

Gazing across at their rescuers as a bright white torch flashed onto their faces, one of the divers begs the group to stay calm.

He reassures them "many, many people are coming … we are the first".

Sat in their baggy football kits on a bank with their legs bent in front of them, the trapped children didn't know what day it was or how long they'd been missing.

"What day is it?" one of the boys asks. "What day you come help me?"

"Monday. One week and Monday," one of those behind the camera says. "You have been here 10 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."

One of the boys, noticing the camera and hearing words they don't immediately understand, says in Thai, "Oh, they want to take a picture; tell him we're hungry. I haven't had anything to eat."

Then the boy breaks into simple English, saying, "Eat, eat, eat," to which another voice responds in Thai that he already told that to the rescuer.

It was fortunate end of a desperate search that drew international help and captivated the nation.

Family members of the missing hugged each other as they cheered the news.

Aisha Wiboonrungrueng, the mother of 11-year-old Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, smiled and hugged her family as news of their discovery spread.

Authorities have warned that the boys are not out of danger yet. Picture: Thai Navy Seal via AP
Authorities have warned that the boys are not out of danger yet. Picture: Thai Navy Seal via AP

She said she would cook her son a Thai fried omelet, his favourite food, when he returns home. Rescue divers had spent much of Monday making preparations for a final push to locate the lost soccer players, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach.

They disappeared when flooding trapped them after entering the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai on June 23.

Mr Narongsak said the divers located the missing about 300-400 metres past a section of the cave that was on higher ground and was thought to be where the team members and their coach may have taken shelter.

The boys had been missing for ten days. Picture: Supplied
The boys had been missing for ten days. Picture: Supplied

"When the medics have evaluated the kids to see if their health is in good condition, we will care for them until they have enough strength to move by themselves, and then we will evaluate the situation on bringing them out again later," Narongsak said.

Anmar Mirza, a leading American cave rescue expert, said many challenges remain for the rescuers. He said the primary decision is whether to try to evacuate the boys and their coach or to supply them in place.

"Supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are," Mirza, co-ordinator of the US National Cave Rescue Commission, said in an email. "Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy.

"That also begets the question: If the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater."

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers who helped locate the missing for their "tremendous efforts."

"The Royal Thai Government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and co-operation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery," Prayuth's office said in a statement.

Thai navy SEAL divers and rescue workers from other countries had made initial progress through a narrow passageway early Monday after passing through a key chamber on Sunday whose high, murky waters had previously blocked their progress.

Mr Narongsak had said earlier the passageway goes upward in some places and downward in others and is very narrow, making it difficult for divers and their gear to fit through.

Divers have been stymied repeatedly by rising water that forced them to withdraw for safety reasons.

When water levels fell Sunday, the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way.

The SEALs' Facebook page said that since Sunday night, the divers had reached a bend where the kilometre-long passage splits in two directions.

The divers were aiming for a sandy chamber on higher ground in the cave. Narongsak explained early Monday that fixing rope lines and deploying oxygen tanks along their route will allow the divers to operate.

The intense search lasted ten days. Picture: Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center via AP
The intense search lasted ten days. Picture: Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center via AP

In addition to the divers, teams have been working to pump out water as well as divert groundwater. Other efforts have focused on finding shafts on the mountainside that might serve as a back door to the blocked-off areas. 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.

Experts in cave rescues from around the world had gathered at the site. An official Australian group has followed a U.S. military team, British cave experts, Chinese lifesaving responders and several other volunteer groups from various countries.

"These are challenging conditions and there's a lot of consideration for safety as well as, the environment outside is contributing to the environment inside," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jessica Tait, part of a 30-member U.S. military team assisting in the search, referring to the rain that has been flooding the cave. "So I'd say, yeah, it's an accurate statement that it's challenging."

- with wires