Youth Soccer Team Could Be Trapped in Thai Cave for 4 Months as Search Turns to Rescue Mission

Friends and family of a youth soccer team were relieved on Monday when the boys were found alive in northern Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang cave. But the ordeal is far from over as rescue teams are now working to determine just how they’ll get the children out safely.

British diver John Volanthen and Rick Stanton swam through the cave’s murky waters, through an enlarged passageway, when Volanethn ran out of line and surfaced some three miles from the entrance, according to the New York Times. That was when Volanthen found the boys on a shelf just above the waters.

Many of the cave’s passageways have been submerged in floodwaters and Capt. Anand Surawan has said the boys could be inside for up to four months until the end of the rainy season, according to the Times.

“I was surprised myself,” Supanat Danansilakura, with the Royal Thai Navy, said, according to the Times. “Four months?”

However, authorities have said that spending such a long time in the dark cave could result in infection and wear on the boys psychologically. A pair of Thai Navy doctors have remained with the boys in the cave as officials work to determine how to free the 12 kids and their 25-year-old coach, NBC News reports.

“The water level in the cave is still very high, so we have to teach them how to swim to come out from there,” provincial governor, Narongsak Osottanakorn, told reports, according to NBC. “We will give them diver masks, but only the rescue teams can decide whether they can be brought out safely in this way.”

The boys do not know how to swim, creating another complication for rescue teams. On Tuesday, a top Thai official said that with heavy rains expected for the coming days, there is no time to waste — and the boys may have to dive their way out, according to the Associated Press.

“Diving is not easy. For people who have never done it, it will be difficult, unlike diving in a swimming pool, because the cave’s features have small channels,” Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said, according to the AP. “If something happens midway, it could be life-threatening.”

The boys — who range in age from 11 to 16 — and their coach were found late Monday after rescue teams, including members of the U.S. military, had been searching the flooded cave for the team since June 23, Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said, according to the Associated Press.

For days, several rescue teams, including divers with a Royal Thai Navy special operations unit, attempted to make their way through the cave’s flooded passages to find the Wild Boars soccer team. Meanwhile, friends and family huddled around the opening, praying and performing rituals as the search for the children continued.

Friends and family members told the AP that the teammates often went on adventures with the coach, Ekapol “Aek” Chanthawong, including entering caves, riding their bikes to Myanmar and swimming in waterfalls.

Before his 13-year-old son was found, Thinnakorn Boonpiam told the AP that he often worried about the boy, who would sometimes come home late after being with the team.

“I have asked my son to leave the team several times, but he wouldn’t,” Boonpiam told the publication. “I suppose he enjoys these activities.”

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