By MARISA CHIMPRABHA,
The missing boys, aged between 13 and 16, are students at several local schools and members of the Mu Pa Academy football club. They are thought to have entered Tham Luang cave with their deputy coach, Ekkapon Intawongse, on Saturday afternoon with meagre provisions, flashlights and a first-aid kit.
Rescue efforts that began on Sunday have so far failed to locate the group, who may be sheltering in a dry area of the flooded limestone cave, which at 10 kilometres in length is the fourth largest in Thailand.
The main obstacles to the rescue mission are muddy water up to five metres deep which is hampering Navy divers’ progress, darkness, and heavy rain that is feeding the inundation.
Public anxiety, hope and support for the missing group and the rescuers is finding many expressions across different platforms.
Hashtags about the plight of the missing team are spreading fast on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Line.
One of the most popular is #Konplakna Thee Yak Jer Theesud (Strangers whom we want to meet most). The strangers, of course, refer to the missing children. Other hashtags trending among anxious netizens include #Dek Tid Tham (Kids trapped in cave), # Pa Mu Pa Klabban (Bring home the Mu Pa players), #13 Cheewit Tong Rod (13 lives must survive) and #Tham Luang.
A different expression of support comes in the form of a cartoon drawing of the 12 teens based on a photo from the Facebook page of their coach, Ekkapon. Judging from this and other photos that have emerged, the missing 25-year-old appears to be close to his players both on and off the pitch.
The drawing is being shared across Thai social media, attracting prayers and well-wishes for the missing group.
A three-panel cartoon that was shared extensively shows a group of super heroes braving waist deep water in a cave, the second shows them finding the missing kids and third panel shows them embracing each other.
Former Thai national football coach Kiatisuk Senamuang has added his moral support, saying he hoped the kids would be found immediately. Thai national football player Chanathip Songkrasin, who is currently playing in Japan’s J League, conveyed his concern. “Although I don’t know them, we share a love of football. I am praying for them and wishing they are found as soon as possible.”
Fellow player Teeratep Winothai wrote a message of support on Facebook: “Please be patient, assistance is on the way.”
Elsewhere, Muang Thong United FC players formed a circle at their home pitch in Bangkok, with a number of 13 in the middle to signify the missing group.
Meanwhile mainstream media – television, radio and newspapers – are clearing their schedules to report on the rescue efforts. Many TV stations have suspended other programmes in favour of rolling coverage of the story unfolding on a hillside in Chiang Rai.