By THE NATION
RESCUE TEAMS are now preparing to drill down from an area above the Tham Luang Cave in Chiang Rai province in a desperate bid to save 12 teenaged football players and their assistant coach who are believed to have been stranded in the cave due to flash floods since June 23.
The drilling spot is above the middle zone of the cave.
The hole, according to the rescue plan, will be a small one at first, wide enough to send a camera down and check the situation in the cave and determine if the victims were stranded in that area.
“If we make contact with the victims, we will send food down, and drill further to widen the opening,” Suwit Kosuwan, who heads the Environment Geology Bureau’s Active Fault Research Unit, said yesterday.
Niwat Boonnop, who heads the Office of Mineral Resources Region 1, said the war room on the rescue operations had already concluded that the drilling operations should go ahead.
“If there is no risk of collapse, we will carry out drilling at three designated spots,” he said.
He added that another chosen spot was near the end of the cave, while the third was near the mouth of the cave.
The second spot was chosen because it could be easier for rescuers to move through the cave from there, as that zone may not have been flooded. The last spot has been chosen to make more space available to pump floodwater out of the Tham Luang Cave.
Flooding has been one of the major obstacles to the rescue efforts.
The Royal Thai Navy’s SEALs have already spent five days inside the cave but as of yesterday evening had not been able to locate the missing youths and their coach.
As of press time, the drilling equipment had already reached Tham Luang Cave.
Asst Professor Suttisak Soralump, an engineering lecturer at Kasetsart University, said the equipment is a “percussion drilling” type.
“We plan to start drilling from a horizontal angle first to minimise the risks of the cave crumbling,” said Suttisak. “The hole will be between four and five inches wide.”
Thai oil companty PTT personnel prepares a thermal imaging drone in the moutain of Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province on June 28, 2018 during rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach in Tham Luang cave. A team of US military personnel and British divers joined rescue efforts at a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for five days as heavy overnight rains hampered the search. // AFP PHOTO
PTT Exploration and Production, the United States Indo-Pacific Command, and the Mineral Resources Department have contributed to the drilling plan with equipment and expertise.
The Engineering Institute of Thailand has already jumped into the rescue effort, providing technical analysis to support the mission.
“If the drilling does not encounter obstacles, it would be possible to drill a distance of 100 metres within one day,” Suttisak said. Due to continued rains, the floodwater levels inside the Tham Luang Cave have kept rising despite the use of many large pumps to drain water away.
Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda said it was important to pump out the floodwater so that the SEALs could move further in their search of the cave system.
US Special Operations Command Pacific Search and Rescue Team's members survey in the cave area as they join the rescue operation for the missing football players and their coach at the Tham Luang cave in Tham Luang Khun Nam Nang Noon Forest Park in Chiang Rai province, Thailand, 28 June 2018. At least 12 members of a youth soccer team are believed to be missing after being trapped in a flooded cave that they were visiting on 23 June. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
“The experts from the United States believe the best way was to reduce the floodwater levels so as to facilitate the divers’ operations,” Anupong said.
Naval Special Warfare Command chief Apakorn Yukongkaew, who led the SEALs divers in the search operation inside the cave, said the floodwaters had spread wider inside the cave and almost reached the entrance now.
The fate of the 13 members of the Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai, a local football team in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, has caught media spotlight nationally, and internationally.
A team of Thai military, police and local rescue team are seen in the moutain of Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province searching for new openings to Tham Luang cave during rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach on June 28, 2018. A team of US military personnel and British divers joined rescue efforts at a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for five days as heavy overnight rains hampered the search. // AFP PHOTO
Many countries have also come forward to provide help, as Thailand has been trying hard to save the stranded footballers. Three foreign diving experts who flew in from Britain have already joined the search inside the cave.
Outside, sniffer dogs have now been recruited to help survey teams scour the area above the cave.
Rescue operations could be easier if there were a passable shaft that connected to the Tham Luang Cave. However, none of the openings found so far provide access to the cave.
National Police deputy chief Pol General Wirachai Songmetta led a team to examine a shaft yesterday after it was identified by GPS experts from the US.
The examination found that after rescue workers could get down 20 metres, they ran into a dead end.