British Dive Team Locates Missing Thai Boys in Chiang Rai Cave

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First images of the boys alive from the helmet camera of British diver John Volanthen (ThaiSEAL / Facebook)

A team of British cave diving specialists was the first to reach the 12 stranded members of a Thai youth football team and their coach after they became trapped in a cave system in northern Thailand due to heavy flooding.

The boys were stranded in the Tham Luang cave system in Chiang Rai after a sudden downpour flooded the cave. They survived, trapped in pitch darkness for nine days on a raised mound in the cave system, known locally as Pattaya Beach.

'Rake thin' and exhausted, all 13 were found alive by John Volanthen, who made the first contact with the group, and Richard Stanton. Both men are members of the voluntary British Cave Rescue Council and were accompanied by cave diving experts Vern Unsworth and Robert Harper.

Stanton, a veteran firefighter from Coventry, who was awarded an MBE in 2012, was involved in the 2004 rescue in Mexico of a team of British cavers. Along with Volanthen, a network engineer from Bristol, he was also part of an attempt to rescue a trapped diver in France in 2010.

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The British rescue team arriving in Thailand (L-R Richard Stanton, John Volanthen, Robert Harper and Vern Unsworth (ThaiPBS / Facebook)

A video of the rescue was published on the Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEAL team which is overseeing the operation. In it,  Volanthen asks how many are present and exclaims 'Brilliant!' as he receives the reply 'thirteen' in response.

So far the team has turned down requests for an interview, preferring instead to concentrate on the rescue of the trapped boys. However, in an interview with the BBC, Bill Whitehouse, the vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council, said that he had been in touch with the team, in which they describe their efforts as 'being a bit of a gnarly dive,' meaning conditions were not easy. They had to manoeuvre through 1,500m of the cave's tunnel system, partly flooded, in zero visibility and fighting against current at times. 

Medicine and high-calorie gel packs reached the trapped footballers early on Tuesday morning, with food parcels being prepared to be sent through the tight passageways of the cave system. A telephone line is also planned to be installed. The wider concern now is how to extract the boys and their coach from their current position.

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Thai Navy SEALs preparing to enter the cave system (ThaiSEAL / Facebook)

It is monsoon season in Northern Thailand, and heavy rainfall is an almost daily occurrence. Although pumps have been installed, removing 10,000 litres of water per hour from the system, this has had a minimal effect in terms of lowering the water levels. Flooding at the cave entrance meant the pumps had to be halted during the search, and further rainfall is expected. 

The Thai authorities have suggested that the only way to save the boys might be to ensure they are kept well-supplied and wait out the rainy season, which does not end until October. The rescue team, however, are preparing to evacuate the trapped footballers by training them to dive, something that none of the group has any experience with.

Although a support diver would be present at all times, some of the passages are so narrow that each of the boys would have to navigate past of the system single-file, in muddy waters with little training. As an added hindrance, none of the survivors knows how to swim.

The support teams have asked for 13 full-face masks to be donated to the rescue efforts, as these are less likely to be dislodged by obstacles, as opposed to standard regulators.






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