Thailand cave rescue: 'Four-day window' for boys to escape

Rescue personnel arrive as rescue operations continue for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province

Rescue personnel arrive as rescue operations continue for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province

The boys, aged between 11 and 16 and not all of whom are capable swimmers, are hurriedly being taught to take on a treacherous dive through narrow, muddy, submerged passageways.

With oxygen levels falling in the netherworld chamber and monsoon rains set to return, General Anupong Paojinda, the interior minister, appeared at the cave entrance, raising relatives' hopes that rescue was imminent.

"[The next] three to four days from now is the most favourable time for the operation and rescue mission using one of the action plans", Osatanakorn told a press conference at the cave site.

As the monsoon rains begin, water is being pumped out of the caves and a plan is being developed to bring them to safety. "I love you", wrote 11-year-old Chanintr Wiboonroongruang (Titan).

Rescue divers have added guide ropes along the passageways in an effort to help the team out.

"We are awed by the bravery and strength that these young boys and their coach have shown amidst such frightening circumstances", it said on its website.

But the difficulty of getting them out was emphasised on Friday when Saman Kunan, a 38-year-old former Thai Navy Seal died after laying oxygen tanks along a potential exit route.

The football coach who took the boys into the cave apologised to parents, but several of them have said they do not blame him.

"Once the heavy rains were going to hit, it was always going to be the deciding factor".

A team of more than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command arrive, including pararescue and survival specialists. At this time though, diving is the only possible method of escape, even though cave rescue experts warn it is extremely risky even for those with experience.

While underwater, the rescuer passed out and efforts to resuscitate him failed, Arpakorn said.

"Teacher, don't give us lots of homework!" read one.

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Warild suggested a compromise that would buy the rescuers some time: find a safe halfway point where the boys and rescue divers could take shelter if the cave refloods.

The effort has also brought global assistance including USA military personnel and the British cave-divers who first found the boys on Monday. Rescuers can now remain underground for longer.

A miracle, finally: the 12 boys and their coach are found alive late Monday evening about 400 metres beyond Pattaya Beach - which had become threatened by encroaching flood waters.

Why it is proving hard to extricate Thai cave boys What next? The divers have been bringing the team medical supplies and food.

The boys are now perched on a dry shelf, but rain could reduce that space to "less than 10 sq m (108 sq ft)", Mr Narongsak said. Authorities are pumping out water round-the-clock, aware of the bad weather forecast in the days ahead.

Now, Thai officials wrestle with the task of extracting the 13 from the cave. A team of bird's nest collectors scour the mountainside for openings.

Thailand's Navy Seal commander says oxygen levels inside have dropped.

If the risk from either the air or water increased "to the point that we can not accept, we will make decision", he said. He warns the window of opportunity to free the youngsters is "limited", in the first official admission that they can not wait out the monsoon underground.

Meanwhile, the coach has offered his "apologies to the parents" of the boys in a scrawled note released by the Thai Navy.

Officials in Thailand have said they will not immediately attempt an underwater evacuation of 12 schoolboys trapped in a cave - because the children are not ready.

On Saturday, rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn said conditions are "perfect" to evacuate the team in the coming days before fresh rains and a possible rise in carbon dioxide further imperil the group.

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