Thai Soccer Team Rescue May Take Months as Rescuers Deliver Supplies to Trapped Boys

A Thai youth soccer team trapped in a cave by floodwaters may have to wait months before they can be rescued.

The 12 boys and their coach had been missing for nine days before military divers found them Monday in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province. But their discovery is only the beginning of a long ordeal. The team now faces the choice of learning to dive in perilous conditions or waiting months for the waters to recede.

The boys—between the ages of 11 and 16—and their 25-year-old coach may have to wait in the cave for as long as four months, the BBC reported, sustained by supplies brought in by military divers.

GettyImages-989900686 A family member shows a picture of four of the 12 missing boys near the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang NonForest Park in Thailand on July. The boys and their football were found safe after nine days, July 2, but getting them out could take months. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images

The case captured the world's attention while hope for the team dwindled as the days dragged on. Power and telephone lines are now being installed inside the cave so the missing boys can speak with their parents, Narongsak Osotthanakon, governor of Chiang Rai, said. He assured reporters that rescuers “won't bring them out until we find a totally safe way,” the Bangkok Post reported.

The Thai rescue team was joined by two British rescue divers who found the boys late Monday. Thai Navy SEAL special forces posted a video of the first encounter in which the British divers told the group they would return with more divers and supplies on Tuesday. In the video, the boys could be seen huddled on a small ledge above the water. Some members of the group asked what day it was and told the rescuers they were hungry.

It is believed the team entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23 when it was still dry, before sudden heavy rains blocked their exit. The boys were found roughly 2.5 miles from the cave entrance. Conditions inside the cave are treacherous, with rushing water and debris impairing visibility and making the cave system’s sharp turns even more challenging. Even if the boys were to become skilled divers, taking them out of the cave would still be risky.

Edd Sorenson of International Cave Rescue and Recovery told the Guardian it would be “unbelievably dangerous” for untrained divers to try to swim to freedom. “As long as the kids know we know where they’re at, they have food, a way to keep warm, water or filtration systems and light, it would really be the safest to wait it out,” he suggested.

Thai navy captain Anand Surawan, however, said his team was preparing to “train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water,” and  that enough food and supplies would be delivered to the boys to sustain them for four months.

RTS1UM84 Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of youth soccer team and their coach continues in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, on July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Engineers have been pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water from the cave each hour. But the rainy season in Thailand lasts until October, meaning the engineers will be battling heavy rain and high water levels for months.

Doctors are preparing to swim into the cave to check the team members' conditions and treat any serious injuries. Other rescue teams are searching the mountainsides for another entrance to the cave.

The site has become a hub of activity with more than 1,000 Thai military personnel helping in the search and rescue effort. They have been joined by teams from seven countries, including the United States.