By The Nation
Although they were found alive on Monday, there has not yet been any completely safe way for them to leave. Any move from here until the team has fully exited will have to be made very carefully, after a former SEAL died in the cave operation early Friday.
Rough conditions inside the cave include cold, darkness, thin air and floodwaters.
An assistant football coach of the Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai led 12 young footballers into the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province on June 23. But flash floods hit that day, forcing them to find a dry spot to await rescue.
They have since been trapped on a muddy shelf at Noen Nom Sao, which is about five kilometres from the mouth of the cave. Though relatively healthy, the survivors have already spent two weeks inside the inhospitable cave, and some remain exhausted.
Their location is dry, but not large enough for them to move around comfortably.
When nature calls, they must relieve themselves in the cramped confines. Hygiene is among the issues they must cope with – others being stress and the absence of sunlight.
Sources say three of the 13, including the football coach, are showing signs of infection, confirming health experts’ concerns about bacteria, viruses and fungi in the cave.
Medics with diving skills and SEALs are now on the front line.
Some are staying with the 13, and working to develop the team’s swimming and diving skills.
Quickly developing a competence in those skills could mean the difference between life and death, if decision-makers call for an immediate evacuation through the flooded sections of the cave. If they can get out soon enough, they will be able to watch the final match of World Cup 2018 after Fifa president Gianni Infantino extended them an invitation.
While some other evacuation options are still being considered, the 5-km journey – that will include diving and swimming in floodwater in addition to hiking and climbing – will be necessary if heavy downpours return and raise the water levels inside the cave.
However, for as long as the floodwater levels continue to decrease, the authorities intend to keep the team safe right where they are and continue building their skills for the eventual evacuation. A one-week food supply has already been brought to Noen Nom Sao, along with diving gear. Even with SEAL escorts through the passages, the footballers will have to swim and dive on their own at some points.
The all-out rescue effort at the cave, which includes international help, has already claimed one life.
Ex-SEAL Petty Officer First-class Samarn Kunun, 38, collapsed at about 1am on Friday after installing oxygen tanks along the passage between the third chamber of the cave and the T-junction, which is still heavily flooded. He drowned and even though his buddy rushed to his help, it was not possible to revive him. His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn granted water for Samarn’s bathing rites, which took place at the Sattahip Naval Base in Chon Buri province on Friday evening. The Royal Thai Navy is also planning to offer help and benefits to Samarn’s family.