Thai rescuers say 12 boys trapped deep inside a cave complex may be able to walk out, provided their route can be drained quickly enough.
Monsoon showers are predicted for the weekend.
A military operation in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex is using hundreds of industrial pumps to drain the water along the 4km path from the entrance to the area where the children and their football coach have been sheltering for 12 days.
The focus of today’s operation is a third major basin along the route where water still reaches to the ceiling. The boys, who are mostly not strong swimmers, are being trained in how to dive using scuba equipment. But forcing them to exit through deep water is risky.
So officials are instead hoping “to reduce (water) to the point that no diving equipment is needed, like to the waistline, so one can wear just life jackets and walk out,” Woongsatngiem said today.
Clearing the third basin would leave another 2.5km of path to the boys, ages 11 to 16. A Chinese diver at the site, Wang Ying Jie, said about half that remaining path would be walkable in the right conditions; the maximum water depth they would need to cross is about six metres.
It is unclear how long the remaining area would take to drain, but monsoon rains are predicted for Saturday and would quickly refill the cave complex, potentially cutting the boys off for months.
A fibre-optic cable was also being laid inside the cave and would reach the boys soon, so they could be able to speak to and see their parents on video.
With wet weather looming, authorities are also calculating how long they are willing to allow rescuers to remain in the cave before they order them to evacuate.
Officials were also scouring the jungle above the complex to find new openings that could be drilled to extract the boys more easily. Since they are breathing, there is very likely a shaft somewhere to the top.
“We have around 20 to 30 teams surveying on top to find the closest and most precise spot,” he said.
Sources: Michael Safi and Jacob Goldberg – The Guardian
Photo: © Reuters