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What to Know About the Trapped Thai Boys

Category: Asia,World

When 12 soccer players and their coach went missing in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai Province in northern Thailand on June 23, many feared they would never emerge alive from the flooded depths of the geological complex.

But after 10 days of searching, divers found the boys and their coach huddled in an isolated chamber inside the cave. They were hungry and cold, but alive.

Questions were quickly raised about the next, precarious step: How would rescuers get them out? With the passageway to the chamber flooded — and the only way in and out a precarious route — rescuers have been weighing their options. The urgency and difficulty of evacuating the trapped group of 13 grew more pressing on Friday. Officials said they had a “limited amount of time” to free them.

With the soccer team’s plight approaching the two-week mark, here’s what is known.

Who are the stranded boys and how did they get here?

The 12 trapped boys are from the Moo Pa Academy (the name means “Wild Boars”), a soccer team in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai, and range in age from 11 to 16. Many attend the Mae Sai Prasitsart School, and their classmates have held prayer vigils for them since they disappeared. All were in decent health when rescuers found them on Monday, according to officials.

One of the boys, Adul Sam-On, was born in Myanmar, where his parents live. He had been taken in by a church to study in Thailand. He speaks four languages — English, Burmese, Thai and Chinese — and was able to communicate with the British divers who first found the group.

The boys had set off after soccer practice on June 23 and biked to the cave along with their coach. When they didn’t return home on Saturday evening, their families reported them missing. Family members have held a vigil outside the complex since then. The cave flooded while they were inside.

Who is the soccer coach?

Ekkapol Chantawong, 25, is the assistant coach of the Wild Boars soccer team, and was hiking with the players through the cave complex when they became stranded.

His Facebook page features dozens of images of him cycling with members of the team, and videos and photos of him with the boys. An animated version of one of the photos, seen below, has gone viral on Thai social media, with calls for the 13 pictured to “Stay Strong,” though its unclear if all of the 12 boys in the photo are all trapped in the cave. Mr. Chantawong appears on the left.

Mr. Chantawong’s family said he spent years as a Buddhist monk. His aunt, Amporn Sriwichai, said that both of his parents had died and that he lives with his ailing grandmother.

“He is a really good boy,” she said last week. “He is very helpful. He loves soccer.”

Another aunt, Tham Chantawong, told The Associated Press that his training had probably helped the group survive.

“He could meditate up to an hour,” she told the news agency. “It has definitely helped him and probably helps the boys to stay calm.”

Where in the cave complex are they stranded?

The Tham Luang cave is a sprawling complex below the Doi Nang Non mountain range near the border with Myanmar. Bicycles, soccer shoes and other equipment belonging to the boys were found at the entrance of the cave complex — at the only known passage in or out — the day after they went missing. A sign outside had warned visitors not to enter “in the rainy months starting in July.” The rainy season usually ending in November.

But the boys and their coach ventured in, and then got trapped by rising floodwaters driven by rain. During the search effort, rescuers looking for the group pumped water out of the cave system, but it was not possible to drain enough to make a difference.

Because of the flooding, it took 10 days to find them. The cave complex has never been fully mapped and is full of different waterways that don’t appear to be directly linked.


The chamber the boys and their coach are trapped in is about three miles from the entrance and accessible only to rescue divers because of the flooding. They have had to make their way through cramped passageways for hours to reach the trapped group.

What is the rescue plan?

After the boys and their coach were found, officials said they might be stranded for months inside the complex, waiting for floodwaters to recede. But declining oxygen levels have put their health and survival at risk and added new urgency to the rescue.

“At first we thought that we could sustain the kids’ lives for a long time where they are now, but now, many things have changed,” Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew, the Thai Navy SEAL commander, told reporters on Friday. “We have a limited amount of time.”

The focus of the operation has now turned to delivering air to their pocket of the cave and to running a communications line to them from the command center in a dry portion called Chamber Three. By Friday, 140 divers were stationed there, about a mile from the boys.

The stranded team and coach may have to be evacuated by divers, though some members of the group can’t swim and have never been scuba diving. Officials have yet to provide details about whether this may happen, and if so, when.

The entrepreneur Elon Musk said on Twitter that engineers from two of his companies — SpaceX and The Boring Company — were traveling to Thailand on Friday to see if they could help in the rescue operations.

“There are probably many complexities that are hard to appreciate without being there in person,” Mr. Musk wrote.

Thai officials have not said whether Mr. Musk’s employees would be involved in rescue efforts.

What are the team’s chances of survival?

The worst-case possibilities involve the group’s running out of air or even being swept away by rushing waters.

Rescuers have described strong currents, limited visibility and treacherous conditions in the cave. With some passageways just two and a half feet wide, it has been difficult for even the best divers to navigate the submerged portions of the cave. It takes divers up to six hours from their staging point to reach the chamber where the boys are.

Oxygen levels have plummeted, making the situation inside the chamber dire.

The journey is not just risky for the stranded boys but for the rescuers as well, as evidenced by the death of a retired Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Gunan, 38, who was volunteering as part of the rescue efforts on Friday. He ran out of air while on a dive to help deliver air tanks to the chamber where the boys are stranded, Admiral Yookongkaew said.

His funeral will be sponsored by Thailand’s royal family.

Megan Specia, Richard C. Paddock, Mukatita Suhartono and Mike Ives contributed reporting.


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