As round-the-clock efforts to save a team of 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach trapped inside Chiang Rai’s Luang Khun Nam Nang Non Cave continue, ongoing rains and floodwater remain the biggest obstacle, a rescue team member told Coconuts Bangkok in an exclusive interview this morning.
Last night’s heavy rain reportedly caused the most severe setback to the mission thus far. As of 11am this morning, SEALs who were last night forced to retreat due to extremely high water levels had been unable to resume their mission, making pumping water out of the cave the top priority.
“There are four chambers total,” Nuttapol Wongshuwan told Coconuts via phone as he explained why the SEALs simply can’t keep moving forward under water until they’ve reached the chamber they believe contains the soccer team and their coach.
“The SEALs have gone as far as the third chamber. They don’t have enough oxygen to make the trip onwards from there. That’s why we need to get rid of the floodwater,” he said.
“The water doesn’t actually flood the cave from the entrance [where press, parents and other rescue units have set up tents],” Nuttapol added. “It actually flows in from the back from the cave — where we believe the soccer team are currently located.”
Nuttapol, a firefighter and member of the Lampang Rescue Association who’s been stationed at the mouth of Luang Khun Nang Non Cave for about 3 days now, also described what he said was a treacherous journey inside the cave.
“There are some very steep rock cliffs, and water is always dripping — making the path slippery and muddy.”
To illustrate the difficulty of the rescue, Nuttapol, who’s in charge of supplying food and equipment to SEALs inside the cave, recalled one instance in which lunch boxes had to be passed down in assembly line-style through a narrow, one-meter-wide hole.
When asked whether he believed the cave’s echoes would allow rescuers calls to reach the children, Nuttapol said he believed that the humidity in the air absorbs all sounds.
“It’s like shouting into a wall. Radio phones don’t even work 10-20 meters from one another. Maybe the phones the British team brought will have better result.”
Those UK divers reportedly arrived at the cave at about 8pm last night, bringing with them sophisticated gear and equipment that “far surpassed” the Thai team’s, Nuttaphol said, though they have not yet joined the dive search.
“They [the UK rescue team] are currently testing to see which equipment will be useful in this specific situation and in these weather conditions,” he said.
Meanwhile, as divers prepare for another attempt, another police unit circles the mountain in a helicopter searching for potential new entrances, a technique that yesterday yielded three possibilities, all of which turned out to be dead ends.
Coconuts will keep you updated as more information regarding the rescue effort becomes available.