As a search in northern Thailand for 12 boys and their soccer coach missing inside a flooded cave entered a sixth day on Friday, police began dropping survival packages through a shaft drilled in the mountainside not knowing if anyone was there. International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), are assisting the Thai army, navy, and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.
Police have been scouring ground above in search of other ways into the cave as divers tried to find their way through the flooded passages.
Bicycles and soccer shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group. But the search has so far yielded no other trace.
Twenty packages filled with water, food, medicine, flashlights and a note addressed to the missing team were dropped down a fissure in the cave on Friday, police said.
“If the children find this box we want them to float the box out of the cave,” Police Colonel Kraiboon Sotsong, commander of the police’s strategic office, told reporters.
“The note says: ‘If received, then reply and show on the map where you are. Everybody will quickly help.”
The race to find the boys has gripped the Southeast Asian nation. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha visited the site on Friday to urge on the rescuers and assure relatives keeping vigil that every effort would be made.
Gov. Narongsak thanked people in Thailand and abroad for their support, including a U.S. military rescue team and U.K. cave divers.
“We will keep our effort up no matter how tired we are,” he said.
He said Thai navy SEAL divers had been able to work underwater Thursday but would not elaborate on their progress. The divers have oxygen tanks but still must have enough space between the water and the cave ceiling to surface for air and to ensure their safety in the muddy waters that fill rocky passages, some so tight the divers must bend their bodies to advance through them.
Above ground, four shafts have been located that might allow access to the cave and rescuers were continuing to explore those shafts Friday, Narongsak said.
“We’re really here to provide that expertise and capability knowledge to our Thai partners,” US Air Force public affairs officer Jessica Tait said. “Obviously, they have been providing tremendous effort for the past four days on the rescue attempt.”
The boys and their coach are believed to have crawled into the large series of caves through a narrow, 15-meter (50-foot) channel.
A sign at the entrance to the cave — a popular tourist attraction — warns of danger during the rainy season, which is just getting underway.
The team trying to find a way to drain the water dug until 1 a.m. to a depth of 30 meters (98 feet) but did not find any wells, said Ekchawin Longpinit from the Thai Underground Water Department. About a dozen workers were drilling at the same spot Friday morning. “We will continue to drill today, and more drill equipment is being sent” to explore more spots to drill, Ekchawin said.
“There has to be faith. Faith makes everything a success,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, the country’s military ruler, told families waiting outside the cave. “Faith in the actions of officials. Faith in our children who are strong and vigorous. Everything will go back to normal.”
Ref. Today, NBC News, Fox News, Reuters, CNN News
Photo via CNN News