Bangkok: A Thai soccer team of twelve boys and their coach who went missing ten days back inside a flooded cave have been found alive but it may take months for them to come out. They will have to learn to dive or wait months for flooding to recede. Aged between 11 and 16, the boys went missing with the 25-year-old after soccer practice on June 23 after they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in a forest park near Thailand's northern border with Myanmar.
The children would be supplied with food that could last at least four months, the Thai military said. The rescue workers -- Thai Navy SEALs -- were battling with rising water and bringing in food and medical supplies to the stranded team.
Rescuers are yet to decide on what would be the best way to get the group out in their weakened condition. They have been given energy gels to sustain them while a plan is worked out to bring them to safety. Options considered include waiting until water levels subsided, or teaching the group to use diving gear to navigate the flooded cave.
The Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand is regularly flooded during the rainy season which lasts until September or October. If the children were to be brought out before then, they would have to learn basic diving skills to safely get through the dangerous corridors of muddy, zero-visibility waters, the BBC reported.
The rescue teams attempted to pump the water levels lower but all efforts have so far been unsuccessful. The 13 had been missing for nine days before they were found by divers on Monday. The search for the group had gripped the nation as it was unclear where they were or whether they even were still alive after their belongings were found outside the cave on June 23. The rescue operation attracted world wide attention with experts from various countries pitching in.
Divers struggled through narrow passages and murky waters to discover the boys late on Monday night on an elevated rock about 4 kilometres from the mouth of the cave. A video shot by rescuers in flickering torchlight revealed boys clad in shorts and red and blue shirts sitting or standing on the rock above an expanse of water.
"How many of you are there - 13? Brilliant," a member of the multinational rescue team, speaking in English, tells the boys. "You have been here 10 days. You are very strong." "Thank you," one of the boys says.
One of the boys asks when they will get out of the cave, to which the rescuer answers: "Not today. You have to dive."
Two British divers, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, were first to reach the boys, having had strong experience in cave rescues, according to Bill Whitehouse, the vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC). They found the group along with a team of Thai navy SEAL divers.
Families of the missing group were ecstatic after the news of the team being alive came out. Relatives of the boys, who have been at a shelter near the cave hoping for a breakthrough, were seen cheering, smiling and receiving calls after being given the news. Rescuers shook hands and congratulated each other as occasional cheers broke out.
The group`s health was assessed overnight by medical teams which will continue to check the health of the group on Monday, said Narongsak, explaining that the boys had sustained light injuries.
(With inputs from Reuters and IANS)