Attempts to extract survivors may begin in next few days

Rescue teams will attempt to bring the 13 survivors out of Tham Luang cave in the next few days before the looming fresh monsoon rains flood the cave system again, chief of the rescue operation Narongsak Osotthanakorn said this morning.

He said the water level in the cave, the state of the health of the 12 young footballers and their coach and the weather at the moment are “most conducive” for the rescue operation.

Speaking at a daily briefing, Narong said all rescue plans are in place and rescue teams have been rehearsing them in the past few days. He also said additional teams of international cave diving experts are on their way to help with the rescue operation. “The are some of the world’s top experts in cave rescue,” he said.

Narongsak declined to be specific about the option that will be taken but it’s understood that having the survivors dive their way out to freedom is the most likely choice. “We have rehearsed all rescue plans,” he said, stressing that the rescue teams will choose option that “has minimum risks”

He admitted that the looming monsoon rains in the next few days are putting pressure on the rescue teams to decide on their next course of action. “We are waging a war against time and water,” Narongsak said, adding that one option or another will have to be chosen soon.

He said that waiting for the water to recede enough for the survivors to be brought out safely is the most preferable option but the current monsoon season means that there won’t be a let-up in rain until late this year.

He said the biggest threat is additional rain water that will flood the cave. “It’s estimated that with more rain, the dry space on the ledge where the boys are sheltering will shrink to no more than 10 square meters,” he said, admitting that the situation is putting pressure on the rescue teams to act as soon as possible.

But the death of an ex-Navy SEAL member on Thursday underscores the dangers associated with attempts to have the survivors swim their way out of the cave through muddy water and strong currents. Several diving experts have also warned against the option given the fact that the survivors have no scuba diving experience and some cannot even swim. But judging from Narongsak’s remarks this morning, it looks like the Thai rescue teams are running out of options.

Narongsak said the rescue teams are also getting increasingly concerned with the declining level of oxygen in the cavern. “It’s not only the dropping level of oxygen. It’s the increasing level of carbon dioxide is posing worries,” he said.

A chute supplying more air was inserted into the cave while more oxygen cylinders were also brought in to ensure sustainable level of oxygen for the survivors and the SEAL team that is staying with them. Narongsak said some of the rescue team members have been withdrawn to save oxygen.

The rescue operation chief, however, said that probing for alternative entry points into the cave still continues. “We have probed more than 100 spots but found that only 18 them have the potential of being further drilled,” he said but quickly added that drilling through the solid rock to try to reach the chamber where the survivors are sheltering would probably take weeks or months.

“What we have before us is probably the world’s most difficult mission. It’s a rescue mission that has no precedence,” he said.