Thai cave note: Heartbreaking letter sent to boys’ parents
THE young soccer coach who has been trapped for two weeks inside a partially flooded Thai cave with his team of 12 boys has apologised to the parents of the boys in a scrawled note released by the Thai Navy.
"To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care," Ekapol Chanthawong wrote. "I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologise to the parents."
A total of seven pages were posted on the Thai Navy SEALs Facebook page, with messages apparently from each of the boys - aged 11 to 16 - and their 25-year-old coach.
Their brief notes express gratitude, love as well as dreams of food. "I want to eat pan-fried pork," one of the boys writes.
"Don't worry, everyone is strong", one letter read. "When we get out of here, we want to eat many things. We want to go home as soon as possible," adds the message.
The group has been trapped more than 4km inside the cave in northern Thailand since June 23.
A risky plan to save the boys could be rolled out in the next 24 hours. The boys will likely be evacuated alongside experienced scuba divers in what is being called a "buddy dive".
It is understood that the schoolboys and their coach will be guided out of the 4km cave tunnel, one-on-one with a Navy SEAL diver.
The buddy system would allow the skilled divers to closely monitor their partner and ensure their safety.
It has been reported by ABC News in the US that the plan to rescue the boys could be launched this weekend. It also reported that Thailand's prime minister was due to be briefed on the proposal Saturday morning, local time.
If approved, the plan would role out in two stages. The first stage involves staging equipment, air tanks and clearing obstacles in the cave and could be completed by 6pm local time Saturday.
The second phase involves the "buddy dive" and could start as early as Sunday morning local time, ABC News reports.
Thai divers would lead the mission but the rescue team includes divers and workers from the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe and Asia.
At a late night press conference, Chiang Rai province governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said there was "a plan in place" but he stressed the boys were not yet ready to attempt a dangerous dive to freedom.
He said the boys had not learned adequate diving skills in the few days since searchers reached the area where they are sheltering. He also said the boys had enough strength to walk but could not swim to safety.
Narongsak Osottanakorn said the health of most of the boys had "improved to normal", and that divers were continuing to teach diving and breathing techniques.
When asked if a rescue attempt would be made overnight if it started to rain, he said: "No, the boys can't dive at this time."
There was great concern over the dwindling air supply as the level of oxygen in the cave where the boys are trapped dropped to 15 per cent. The usual level is around 21 per cent.
But an air line has been installed overnight to the cave where the group waits to be rescued.
The death of the military diver on Friday underscored the huge risks the boys face.
The diver's death brought heartache for rescuers and anxious relatives waiting outside the Tham Luang cave in the country's mountainous north - and raised serious doubts over the feasibility of attempting to bring a group of boys with no diving experience out through the cramped passageways filled with muddy water.
But rescue officials fear their options are running out given fresh monsoon rains are forecast for the coming days.
Thailand's Navy SEAL commander on Friday said rescuers may have little choice but to attempt the tricky extraction of the group, the first official admission that the 12 boys and their coach might not be able to wait out the monsoon underground.
"At first, we thought the children could stay for a long time … but now things have changed, we have a limited time," Apakorn Yookongkaew told reporters.
'THEY CANNOT DIVE'
THE 12 boys and their soccer coach stuck in a flooded Thailand cave will not be able to be rescued today, according to a bleak update from the governor of the Chiang Rai province.
Addressing journalists at a press conference near the Tham Luang cave complex, Narongsak Osottanakorn didn't seem confident that an extraction attempt would be safe at the moment.
There were unconfirmed reports circulating earlier that the authorities may begin the rescue mission overnight due to fears that forecast torrential rains would further endanger the trapped football team.
"We [will] try to set the best plan. If the risk is minimal, we will try. We are afraid of the weather and the oxygen in the cave. We have to try to set the plan and find which plan is the best," Mr Osottanakorn said, The Guardian reports.
He added that the boys have "already learned" to dive but that the rescue mission had to be delayed further to "test the plan" and ensure there would be "minimum risk" in the increasingly risky conditions.
However, he assured that the British diver who came out of the cave at 9pm (Midnight AEST), reported that the boys were fine.
According to a tweet from the South East Asia correspondent for The Australian, Amanda Hodge, written letters from family members have also been delivered to the trapped young boys.
When asked if the rescue plan would be expedited if the rain begins to fall again, Mr Osottanakorn said it couldn't.
"They cannot dive at this time," he told journalists.
The death of an experienced former Thai Navy Seal, who died after running out of oxygen on Friday while assisting with the rescue, has raised concerns about how safe it would be for the boys who have no suba diving experience to attempt to swim out of the flooded cave.
The round trip in and out of the cave to reach the boys can take a highly skilled diver about 11 hours, it has been estimated.
Rescue alternatives, Channel News Asia reports, would be for the children to remain in the cave until the wet season ends and flood waters recede - which could take months - or drilling a shaft into the cave from the forest above.
According to Channel News Asia, Mr Osottanakorn said more than 100 air holes have been found above the cave complex, with 18 of them likely to be further explored.
One hole even stretches down 400m, he added, but drilling can be extremely time-consuming.
The sheer danger was made all the more apparent on Friday by the death of Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL diver, who ran out of oxygen while returning from the chamber where the boys are trapped.
He was part of a team trying to establish an air line to the chamber where the children are awaiting rescue and lay oxygen tanks along the route.
"We lost one man, but we still have faith to carry out our work," Navy SEAL commander Apakorn vowed.
Saman resigned from the Thai military in 2006 before working at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, according to a post on the Thai Navy SEALs Facebook page, which said he was a triathlete and a "skilled and able diver". Thai social media filled with tributes to the fallen hero.
Asked how the boys could make it out safely if an experienced diver could not, Apakorn said they would take more precautions with the children.
But experts say the dangers remain high.
"It's very risky (diving out). Think about it, a Navy SEAL just passed away last night, so how about a 12-year-old kid," said Rafael Aroush, an Israeli volunteer helping the rescue bid.
The accident marks the first major setback for the gargantuan effort, which has gripped Thailand as the nation holds its breath for their safe escape.
Footage released before the press conference shows the challenging conditions rescuers face as they attempt to extract the young boys and their soccer coach from the flooded Thai cave.
Sporting hard hats and headlights, the rescuers are seen wading through narrow passageways in the video posted by ITVNews, gripping a rope to help guide them through.
The extreme risks facing the trapped boys and the entire cave rescue operation was played out in tragic circumstances yesterday when a former Thai Navy SEAL ran out of oxygen and died while diving back to his base camp.
Oxygen is becoming the critical issue for the mission and will force desperate measures as the air in the small chamber where the team is trapped runs low.
Ivan Karadzic, a Danish cave diver volunteering in the risky mission, was explaining the difficulties of the operation on Sky News.
"There's few people who have experience rescuing kids from deep inside the cave," Mr Karadzic said.
Authorities overseeing the rescue operation said they have a "limited amount of time" to get them out, as they raced against worsening weather and lessening oxygen underground.
"We can no longer wait for all conditions (to be ready) because circumstances are pressuring us," Thai SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told an earlier news conference.
"We originally thought the boys can stay safe inside the cave for quite some time, but circumstances have changed.
"We have limited amount of time."
Rescuers have brought more air cylinders to the ledge where the 12 boys and their coach are waiting anxiously, and plan to run an emergency airline from their base camp to the team - a distance of almost three kilometres.
The 38-year-old retired Navy SEAL, Sarman Kunan, who had volunteered for the rescue, was ferrying air tanks to be placed along the route when he passed out due to lack of oxygen in his tank at around 1am on Friday. He was unable to be revived after his diving partner conducted CPR.
The death has highlighted the dangers of trying to swim the soccer team back to the base camp, which involves passing through narrow tunnels and traversing long distances underwater.
Arpakorn stated upon the death of his comrade: "We are prepared to take risks. We will go on."
He said Samarn had taken three oxygen tanks to the stranded boys.
"Though it does not look a long distance, a one-way journey through the tough conditions takes about five to six hours," he said.
"This means we use altogether 12 hours on one trip."
Even the most experienced divers have battled fast-moving currents to swim from the base camp to the boys, where oxygen levels are reported to be at only 15 per cent.
Rescuers are desperately looking at a second and more attractive option - a fissure that runs down from the mountaintop to a point about 100m beyond where the boys are huddled on a ledge.
The opening was reportedly located by a team of traditional bird's nest hunters - men who scale sheer rock faces in search of the prized delicacy, and who are currently surveying the tunnel to test its viability for an evacuation.
With the risks of swimming the team out now judged by some to be too great, all options are on the table as imminent torrential rains are expected to flood the cave.
Though pumping has so far removed more than a million litres from the system, there are doubts as to whether the pumps can outpace the coming rains.
BILLIONAIRE LENDS A HELPING HAND
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has sent engineers from two of his companies to Thailand to see if they can help rescue the stranded soccer team.
Maybe worth trying: insert a 1m diameter nylon tube (or shorter set of tubes for most difficult sections) through cave network & inflate with air like a bouncy castle. Should create an air tunnel underwater against cave roof & auto-conform to odd shapes like the 70cm hole.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 6, 2018
Musk tweeted the announcement after another Twitter user pleaded for him to help the 12 boys and their coach, who have been underground for almost two weeks.
In a series of tweets, Musk said his Boring Co, which digs tunnels for advanced transport systems, has advanced ground penetrating radar, and brainstormed that an air tunnel constructed with soft tubing like a Bouncy Castle could provide flexible passage out.
He said engineers from his Boring Co and SpaceX companies needed to be on site to appreciate the complexities of evacuation.
There has been no immediate official reaction to his plans.