Food has now been taken into the caves for the trapped youths but they may have to remain underground for months until flood water recedes and allows them to leave safely.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on July 4, 2018

The sobering prospect of not seeing daylight for months comes after the boys were were finally located on 2 July after being missing for nine days. They were found deep in the caves by expert divers.

The boys had retreated from Pattaya Beach when it flooded and reaching their remote location was extremely difficult as divers had to navigate sharp bends, confined spaces and zero visibility. Some of the passages were so tight they were not able to fit their scuba equipment through.

Rescuers are working on installing a phone line into the caves to allow them to contact their families.

Thai Navy SEALS Commander Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yookongkaew said that seven medical professionals have reached the team.

He told the media that his team gave the boys food “starting from easily digested and high-powered food with enough minerals” and that a doctor and nurse were among the team.

The trapped boys are generally in good health

The medical staff have also undertaken tests to determine whether the boys are in a green, yellow or red light category in terms of overall health. Most were in the ‘green light’ category.

“Maybe some of the boys have injuries or light injuries and would be categorised as yellow condition,” he said. “But no one is in red condition.”

Even though none of the team seem to have suffered major injuries or medical problems, a rescue diver said the youths were “very weak”.

Could divers lead the trapped boys to safety?

Yookongkaew said his team would not attempt to bring the boys out of the cave until they could be certain they were strong enough. He said that his team would not try to bring them out with divers unless they were “certain that it will work” and would only attempt this if they had successfully carried out a drill exit.

Ben Reymenants, an expert diver from Belgian diver who is assisting with the rescue operation told reporters the strong currents in the cave system would make the underwater escape option even more difficult.

“This is one of the more extreme cave dives that I have done,” he said. “Getting boys through there one by one, and the risk that they will panic is there. They can’t even swim.”

Peter Wolf, National Director of the Cave Divers Association of Australia, was also unconvinced that the boys could be taught to dive well enough to complete the treacherous journey out.

“There’s probably only a handful of cave divers in the world that would have been able to find them,” he said.

“I don’t think teaching them to dive is a viable option.”

An opinion piece written for CNN by Anmar Mirza, National Coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Commission, paints a grim picture of the situation. “The rescue in Thailand is one of the toughest I’ve seen” he writes.

The rescue in Thailand is one of the toughest I’ve seen – Anmar Mirza, National Cave Rescue Commission

Mirza goes on to detail how the boys would now be in a different metabolic state because of the days they endured without any food. Currently, they would not have the strength to stand let alone undertake any strenuous physical activity like exiting the caves by diving.

Yet the dive option may be a necessary last resort if authorities determine the boys are not safe from further flooding.

The boys and their coach are around two kilometres from the cave entrance and approximately one kilometre underground.

Other options to get the boys out of the caves

Another option that has been considered is pumping water out of the system to allow for a safe exit but attempts to clear the flood water have not been successful to date. More rain is expected in the area over the next few days.

Yet another option that has been explored is drilling into the cave to allow for an exit chute. Thousands of soldiers are exploring the mountain above the cave system to determine if there is a ventilation shaft which could be used but this option is considered an extreme long shot. Responders have also scoured the area for an alternative natural entrance to the cave system but have not found anything.

These complications may mean the only viable option is simply to wait months until the flood waters finally recede. Two Thai Navy medics have volunteered to stay with the boys until they can safely exit the caves.

Doctors have also expressed their concerns over the mental health impact being trapped will have on the youths.

One of the few people who can relate the pscyhological toll the ordeal will have is Omar Reygadas, the Chilean miner who spent 69 days trapped underground in 2010. Reygadas told The Associated Press the boys “should think only about leaving and reuniting with their families.”

“They shouldn’t be ashamed to be scared,” he said of the boys. “Because we were scared, too. Our tears also ran. Even as adult men, we cried.”