Twelve boys ages 11-16 and their soccer coach went exploring an immense, six-mile long cave complex near Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Thailand. Monsoon rains hit soon after, quickly flooding the cave system and trapping the boys and their coach inside. For the last few days, rescue personnel have been working tirelessly to locate the soccer players, but to no avail. They have not made contact with any of them, and their status is unknown.
The Underwater Demolition Assault Unit (UDAU), colloquially known as the Thai Navy SEALs, has been assisting in the rescue operations. They have been diving through various access points to the cave, some of which have been reportedly filled up to the ceiling. There have been reports of the Royal Thai SEALs having to squeeze through narrow passageways and wriggle around difficult corners in some of the narrow passageways.
The United States military has joined the search, providing approximately 30 personnel from USINDOPACOM to supplement in whatever way necessary.
The rescuers have been using any available and useful technology at their disposal — drones, thermal imaging, and other tools they can use to explore the caves which have not all been properly mapped. Experts are attempting to study the topography of the area, and determine whether or not nearby cave systems may provide access to this cave. Old surveys and maps have not all proven to be 100% accurate, which further complicates matters. Many experts believe that finding alternate access points is key to rescuing the players and their coach if they are still alive.
Some teams have been drilling (under careful instruction by engineers and caving experts) to create alternate access points as well.
Unfortunately, the monsoon rains have not let up. And the continuous downpour has greatly hindered and at times suspended the rescue operations, as exploring the caves during times of flooding is extremely dangerous. This has also made pumping out water from the caves somewhat ineffective when they just begin to flood again (not to mention the electrical hazards), but when the rain lets up they have continued to try to empty the system of caves as much as possible.
Featured image: Thai soldiers searching for the missing children and their coach march out of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand on Friday, June 29, 2018. | AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit