BANGKOK—A search for a missing teenage soccer team believed trapped in a cave complex in Thailand‘s northern province of Chiang Rai entered its third day on Tuesday as concern grew for the welfare of the boys and their coach.
“If we find them, we will pull them out one by one. Now we found two holes from the top which means they are getting some air,” said forest park head Damrong Hanpakdeeniyom.
The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, were believed to have been trapped by rising waters inside the cave network when heavy rain hit. The boys’ bicycles and soccer boots were found at the mouth of the Tham Luang caves after they went missing late on Saturday.
A 17-member unit of the Royal Thai Navy has been deployed to find them and underwater drones have joined the search. So far, the team has searched about 6 km (4 miles) of the 10 km (6 mile)-long cave, said Hanpakdeeniyom.
“We must find the children today. We have hope that they are alive somewhere in there,” provincial governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told Reuters, adding that searchers were trying their hardest to find them.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters he believed the boys were alive.
Worried relatives gathered at the cave entrance, many having camped overnight hoping for news.
“Come home,” cried one distraught mother. “Mummy is here to pick you up.”
Among those waiting were three teammates who skipped Saturday’s expedition to the cave after soccer practice, because their parents told them to come home, media said.
“I can’t concentrate at school knowing they are in there, so I came here,” said Sonpong Kantawong, 14, who missed the trip because his mother drove to pick him up after soccer practice, media said.
The boys’ bicycles and soccer boots were found at the mouth of the caves after they went missing. A 17-member navy unit including divers and underwater drones has joined the search.
Rescuers have covered about 6 km (4 miles) of the 10 km (6 mile)-long cave network, said Damrong Hanpakdeeniyom, the head of the park, adding that visitors are usually only allowed to venture in about 700 meters (2,300 ft.).
“Inside it is very dark … and if it rains between July and December then we close it,” Damrong added. “This group went in further than allowed.”
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