Mae Sai, Thailand | AFP | More than 100 chimneys are being drilled into the mountainside in a frantic bid to reach a Thai youth football team trapped in a cave complex below, the head of the rescue mission said Saturday.
The unprecedented rescue effort is attempting to establish new ways to extract the boys from above, if the underground chambers flood and it is deemed too risky to evacuate the team by diving out through the submerged passageways.
“Some (of the chimneys) are as deep as 400 metres… but they still cannot find their location yet,” Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters, adding the mission lacked the technology “to pinpoint where they are staying”.
“We estimate that (they) are 600 metres down, but we don’t know the (exact) target,” he said.
Thai cave rescue: timeline
Twelve boys and their football coach have been trapped for two weeks inside a flooded Thai cave.
They were found alive following a gruelling search by divers, who must now determine how to free the youngsters.
With fresh monsoon rains due, rescuers warn the window of opportunity to evacuate the boys is “limited”.
The head of the rescue mission says more than 100 chimneys are being drilled into the mountainside in a frantic bid to reach the boys.
On the question of dipping oxygen levels in the cave, he said rescuers had managed to establish a line to pump in fresh air and had also withdrawn non-essential workers from chamber three — where the rescue base is — to preserve levels inside the cave.
The “Wild Boar” team have been trapped inside the Tham Luang cave complex for two weeks.
Here is how the rescue attempt has unfolded so far:
Saturday, June 23
The youngsters, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach enter the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand during heavy rains after football practice.
They are reported missing by a mother after her son does not come home that night. Local officials find bicycles locked to a fence and shoes and football boots close to the entrance.
Sunday, June 24
Park officials and police find handprints and footprints believed to belong to the boys and think they likely retreated into the winding tunnels as they became hemmed in by rising floodwaters. Relatives start to keep a vigil outside the cave.
Monday, June 25
Thai Navy SEAL divers enter the cave searching for the boys. Makeshift shrines are set up for parents to pray and make offerings, as heavy rains continue.
The boys are believed to have retreated further into the cave to an elevated air pocket called “Pattaya Beach”.
Tuesday, June 26
Divers reach a T-junction several kilometres inside the cave but are forced back by rushing floodwaters that clog a narrow crevice near Pattaya Beach.
Wednesday, June 27
A team of more than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command arrive, including pararescue and survival specialists. They are joined by three British diving experts who go into the cave’s entrance but quickly retreat because of heavy flooding.
Thursday, June 28
The underwater rescue is temporarily halted because of the fast-moving floods inside the cave as downpours refuse to let up.
Water pumps are shipped in to drain the rising, murky floodwaters. Drones are dispatched to help find new chimneys.
Friday, June 29
Thailand’s junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha visits the site and leads a meditation, jokes and cooks with relatives, asking them not to give up hope.
Saturday, June 30
A break in the bad weather allows divers to reach further inside the cave but they are still far away from where the boys are believed to be.
Sunday, July 1
Divers inch further into the cave, as an operating base is set up inside and hundreds of air tanks and other supplies are pulleyed in. Rescuers can now remain underground for longer.
Monday, July 2
A miracle, finally: the 12 boys and their coach are found alive late Monday evening about 400 metres beyond Pattaya Beach — which had become threatened by encroaching flood waters.
Crowds at the teeming rescue site cheer the good news and a nation breathes a sigh of relief. But attention turns to the difficult task of getting the boys out safely.
Tuesday, July 3
Much-needed food and medical supplies — including high-calorie gels and paracetamol — reach the boys as rescuers prepare for the possibility that they may remain in the cave for some time.
Wednesday, July 4
Officials say the group are being taught how to use diving masks and breathing apparatus. Authorities are pumping out water round-the-clock, aware of the bad weather forecast in the days ahead.
Thursday, July 5
In a sign of increased urgency, Thai rescuers say they may be prodded into a complex extraction if forecast rains hammer the mountainside. A team of bird’s nest collectors scour the mountainside for openings.
Friday, July 6
Tragedy strikes: a diver helping to establish an airline to the boys dies after passing out while returning from the chamber.
Saman Kunan’s death raises serious doubts over the safety of trying to bring them out through the cramped, waterlogged passageways.
Thailand’s Navy SEAL commander says oxygen levels inside have dropped. He warns the window of opportunity to free the youngsters is “limited”, in the first official admission that they cannot wait out the monsoon underground.
Saturday, July 7
Rescue operation chief Narongsak Osottanakorn says it is “not suitable” to make the boys dive to safety yet.
A scrawled message emerges from the coach of the team, offering his “apologies” to their parents.