As the search and rescue operations at the caves in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district entered the fifth day on Wednesday, the Royal Thai Air Force today flew in five giant electric water pumps aboard another C130 Hercules transport plane to Chiang Rai to support as rescuers reporting the existing water pumps at the scene could not handle floodwater which continue to flow into the caves, disrupting the Navy Seal rescuers to reach the target place where they believed the football team might take shelter.
At the cabinet meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan this morning, he reported the latest situation at the caves to the cabinet ministers saying the operation faced difficulties from rains that caused water level in the caves to rise disrupting the rescuers to reach the place where the football team might be taking shelter.
He also said helicopters sent in to drop rescuers into holes by the mountain to reach the place from another side was also impossible due to rains and fog.
The only access to the hole is from ground or on foot, he said.
Yesterday the electricity men have finished laying power cables and installed eight water pumps in the caves by 3.00am today.
But the capacities of the water pumps are unable to cope with water inflows and reduce the water level in the caves, prompting the urgent need for more powerful pumps to drain the flood water in the caves.
Today the rescue centre plans to use helicopters and drones equipped with infrared thermal cameras to fly over the mountain areas to detect heat from bodies trapped in the caves.
However if there is rain again, another team of rescuers would set off on foot to climb to the targeted hole on Pha Mee cliff which they earlier found could access to the place where the football team night be trapped.
The Navy Seal team started the operation again today at 5.00am.
Yesterday the team raced against time as rain has raised water levels in the caves.
The rising water level means that accessible search areas are getting smaller and getting more difficult to reach.
According to a short video clip released last night by a Seal rescuer from mounted camera, it showed the teams were forced to walk in single file through the maze of outcropping and rocks and through small gaps.
It is completely dark inside the caverns and search lights and high intensity torches are a necessity.
Some sections are muddy while others are sandy and in many sections rescue teams have to alternate between climbing over obstacles and crawling through cracks and crevasses one at a time. It is obvious that rescuers are faced with an extremely difficult task.
Meanwhile volunteer rescue team leaders reported that several teams have been assigned to survey sections of the caves in preparation for pumping out water.
But they said this could not be accomplished yet because electric power cables to power the pumps are still being dragged in. They said a major concern is the rising water levels which is severely restricting dry ground from which rescue teams can work from.
The current task is to drag the cables 2 km further in from the 1km achieved earlier. The pressing need is to lower water levels as much as possible. Other volunteers have been delegated the task of carrying oxygen tanks into the caves for the rescue divers.
Navy Seal commander Capt Anant Surawan last night recalled difficulties his men faced in the operation.
He said in many sections water levels have nearly reached the ceiling creating another major obstacle for the SEAL teams who entered the caves since morning and have been inside for more than 10 hours in order to get deeper into the cavernous cave system.
They have successfully accessed the central chamber and have searched around 500 meter further in. This is very close to a large subterranean mound which many believe would be used by the missing 13 as a refuge from the rising waters. It took the teams more than 2 hours just to travel several hundred meters.
“It took the teams around 2 hours to get from the 3 fork intersection at the mouth of the cave to where they are now. We will call a meeting later today to assess the water situation and make plans to compensate,” he said.
Latest reports are coming in that water levels are rising rapidly and spreading out to more sections of the caves creating even more difficulties for rescuers.
This is the reason that more than 2,000 people are currently involved in the rescue effort as more manpower is needed to combat the rapid inflow of water. Several hundred soldiers have been called in to help drag in electric power lines to power pumps and illuminate the interior.