Experienced divers took three hours to navigate the narrow passage. Picture: News Corp Australia
Experienced divers took three hours to navigate the narrow passage. Picture: News Corp Australia

How the Thai cave rescue will take place

TETHERED to a frogman, with a static guide rope and stage tanks along the passage, just how the perilous rescue of the 12 trapped Thai schoolboys will take place has been revealed.

The treacherous four-hour journey to safety for each of the 12 boys will take at least two days of continuous individual rescues.

To prepare for their journey out of the cave system, each 11 to 16-year-old will first be fitted with a wetsuit, aqua boots, a helmet and a scuba mask.

Each boy will then be briefed on what is about to take place to help minimise the risk of panic.

Instead of having their own scuba tanks, each boy will have to rely on an individual navy rescue diver's air supply given to them in bursts along the way.

The danger zone: A glooded passage linking the caves will be the rescue operation’s greatest obstacle. Picture: News Corp Australia
The danger zone: A glooded passage linking the caves will be the rescue operation’s greatest obstacle. Picture: News Corp Australia

The divers will use a static rope attached to the cave walls to help guide each boy one-by-one through the cave system of completely flooded chambers and those with air pockets.

Oxygen "stage tanks" have been placed every 25 to 50 metres along the linked system of cave chambers so that the boys can get extra oxygen if needed.

The flooded passage passing through the linked caves is filled with hazardous bends and next to no visibility, with water in some parts being described as "black coffee".

The passage is the biggest challenge facing the trapped schoolboys as authorities race to drain water from the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand's Chiang Rai province.

As part of a desperate attempt to save the boys, Thai authorities are also trying to confirm whether there is a secret passage to safety.

The world was watching with bated breath as it was hoped an attempt to free the 12 starved boys and their 25-year-old football coach would be made on Thursday.

However, the rescue operation is now believed to have been postponed at least another day.

Search for a secret passage

A TREACHEROUS flooded passage filled with hazardous bends and next to no visibility is the biggest challenge facing the trapped schoolboys as authorities race to drain water from a flooded cave in Thailand.

As part of a desperate attempt to save the boys, Thai authorities are also trying to suss out whether there could be a secret passage to safety.

The world watches with bated breath while the 12 starved boys and their football coach, who have been stranded for almost two weeks, are reportedly being trained in how to breathe with scuba equipment as they prepare for a possible attempt at leaving the cave today.

However, several diving experts have warned that the mission is extremely dangerous as the boys can't swim, have never used scuba gear and the cave's narrow passageways pose a significant challenge for even the best cave divers.

A narrow 3km flooded stretch of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, which took experienced cave divers about three hours to navigate, poses an ominous obstacle for the unexperienced boys, aged between 11 and 16, in the desperate rescue option.

British Cave Rescue Council chairman Gary Mitchell told the BBC that freezing, muddy water was touching the roof of the cave inside the pitch black passage which is extremely narrow - so much so that it is only big enough to fit one person through at a time.

A Thai diving website, Digitalay, has also posted a sketch which shows how divers must tackle the perilous 3km stretch.

Using a rope guideline, the volunteers would be submerged by 10m at each flooded point in the passage and divers would have to dismount their scuba kits to stand any chance of getting through.

 

Thai diving site Digitlay posted this sketch of the cave. Picture: Facebook /digitalay
Thai diving site Digitlay posted this sketch of the cave. Picture: Facebook /digitalay

The boys may have to be kitted up with scuba gear and dragged through the dangerous passage while being closely tethered to divers, but they then run the risk of their gear being knocked off as they navigate the tight nooks and crannies.

This morning, Claus Rasmussen, who is part of the rescue team, said the boys had told divers they heard dogs barking, a rooster crowing and children playing - raising suspicions that there may be a hidden passage to safety from deep within the cave.

SECRET PASSAGE COULD SAVE THE BOYS

According to CNN, the new information now has teams looking at whether there was a chimney or hole they could access instead of trying to get the boys out through the water.

If there does in fact turn out to be a secret passage, it means the rescuers could potentially sidestep the incredibly dangerous crash course diving operation.

Timing is crucial in the complex rescue mission as heavy storms are soon forecast to arrive, which could make it impossible to evacuate the group for months.

A 24/7 draining operation is now in place, but Thai authorities are still understood to be weighing up the best method of extracting the boys. The best option would be to rid the cave almost entirely of water, which would allow the stranded group to crawl 4km to safety, but they would still need to pass through short underwater passages.

However, because of the looming monsoon rains forecast to hit the area later this week, Thai authorities still believe teaching the boys to dive so they can be escorted out of the system by rescue divers, is the most realistic option.

This could take several months and today rescue teams have been busy trying to install an internet cable to the cave so that parents can talk to their trapped children.

A certified cave diver from the US, said the boys would have to undergo "immediate and intensive training" if they were to stand any chance of exiting the cave alive.

"Normal cave diving requires skills that go beyond what 99 per cent of the world's divers have ever seen, which is why it is so very hard to become certified to dive in caves," he wrote in an educational journal this morning. "The diving required in this cave, however, is not normal cave diving, and the rescuers are not normal cave divers.

"The greatest enemy to a diver is panic. Students who are accustomed to the normal mishaps of swimming, like accidentally getting water in the mouth or eyes, will usually have no trouble, but for people with little swimming experience, such a minor event can lead to irrational panic.

"Most of the Thai team members are nonswimmers, and the culture there has a common belief that swimming is extremely dangerous. That starts any training in a serious deficit."

A cave explorer assisting Thai authorities trying to rescue the schoolboys believes "we'll know in the next 24 hours" if they will survive.

British cave expert Vern Unsworth, who lives in Thailand, said the conditions were getting worse and there was now a narrow window in which the group could escape.

"I think we'll know in the next 24 hours … We'll keep our fingers crossed, everybody needs to pray and hope for a good outcome," Mr Unsworth told the BBC.

Australia has also sent a further three specialists to help with the rescue, it was announced this morning.

Mario Sepulveda, one of the Chilean miners who was trapped underground for 69 days in 2010 made a video message for the boys this morning.

"Hang in there" he told them, appearing dressed in a yellow vest, orange miner's helmet and headlamp.

He said he was trying to raise funds to travel to Thailand himself and help the rescue effort however he can.

"I'm going to see what's possible. I'm calling someone from the (Chilean) government to try to get some money together. I think it's important as a country for us to be there, after what we miners went through," he told AFP.

"I would love to go. I think it would be extremely important to support the families, give them a hug. Words of encouragement are important."

The trapped boys went in to write their names on the cave walls.
The trapped boys went in to write their names on the cave walls.

"We have to be 100 per cent confident that there is no risk to the boys before we evacuate," Narongsak Osottanakorn, Chiang Rai provincial governor, told reporters.

"We will take care of them like they are our own children," he said. The group are being taught how to use diving masks and breathing apparatus, he added, but from the safety of the muddy bank which for now remains their sanctuary.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE

Classmates and friends of the schoolboys also reportedly were near the cave's entrance singing songs of support.

After a day of sustained pumping efforts, water levels inside the massive cave complex have been reduced and fierce currents have eased, The Australian reports.

However, that was before rain lashed the area yesterday afternoon.

The newspaper reports it has been told that fast-water currents inside the cave have eased to a standstill and with monsoonal rains expected to resume by Friday, conditions for the rescue are as good as they are likely to get.

WHY THEY WENT INTO THE CAVE IN THE FIRST PLACE

One of the rescue divers Ben Reymenants, a Dutch jungle cave dive expert with a business in Phuket, told Sky News he believes the boys were in the cave as part of a football initiation ritual.

He said the boys left their backpacks and shoes, and believes the boys waded in and tried to make it to the end of the tunnel, "sort of like an initiation for local young boys to write your name on the wall and make it back".

However, Thai police have refused to answer questions on whether the 25-year-old coach should be charged for leading the children into the cave, the Khaosod English paper reports.

VIDEO OF LAUGHING BOYS

Despite the imminent danger, the children have appeared in a new video, laughing as they greet the camera to say they are in good health.

The footage, published on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page, runs by 11 of the 13 members of the team, each makes a traditional Thai greeting gesture to the camera before introducing themselves by nickname and saying "I'm in good health".

Some appeared to be wearing a change of clothes since they were found late Monday and most were wrapped in foil warming blankets.

The reason the boys entered the cave, according to a Dutch diver working in Thailand, was to write their names on the wall as part of an initiation ritual.

MOMENT THE BOYS WERE FOUND ALIVE

Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, two expert cave divers from Britain, found the group about 300-400m past a section of the cave on higher ground that was believed to be where they might have taken shelter.

In the 5-minute navy video, the boys were seen wearing their soccer uniforms and were calm, curious and polite.

They also were keen to get some food. After an initial exchange in which a rescuer determines that all 13 are present, one of the boys asked what day it was, and a rescuer replied: "Monday. Monday. You have been here - 10 days."

The rescuer told them "you are very strong." The traditional reserve of Thai children toward adults broke slightly after a while, and one boy told another in Thai, "Tell them we are hungry."

"We haven't eaten," a boy said in Thai, then in English: "We have to eat, eat, eat!" A rescuer assured them that "Navy SEALs will come tomorrow, with food and doctors and everything." At the end of the video, a boy asked in English, "Where do you come from?"

The rescue diver replied, "England, UK." Besides the protein drink, Narongsak said they were given painkillers and antibiotics, which doctors had advised as a precaution.

- with wires

The cave rescue may begin on Thursday morning before the rains.
The cave rescue may begin on Thursday morning before the rains.