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How did 12 boys and their coach survive in a Thai cave for more than a week? Experts weigh in

The missing members of a youth soccer team including their coach were found inside the cave complex at Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, Chiang Rai province, Thailand. ROYAL THAI ARMY/EPA/Shutterstock

The news skyrocketed around the world on Monday: 12 boys and their soccer coach were found — alive — after the cave they were exploring flooded more than a week ago, officials said.

We don’t yet have the full story about how the 12 boys — aged 11 to 16 — and their 25-year-old coach survived in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave. But some national caving rescue experts are weighing in, hypothesizing about how the cave’s conditions could have helped the group.

Anmar Mirza, national coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Commission, previously told the Associated Press that the group’s youth and health could help the situation, noting that they should be able to survive four to five days with no water — and a month or more with water but no food.


‘‘The biggest concern is them getting desperate and trying to enter swift moving water,’’ he previously said.

A happy family member showed the latest pictures of the missing boys taken by rescue divers inside Tham Luang cave.AFP/Getty Images

The boys were found Monday about 300 to 400 yards past a section of the cave that was on higher ground, which was thought to be where the group may have taken shelter.

Tim White, the Southeast regional coordinator for NCRC, said the cave’s relatively warm temperature was probably one of the group’s saving graces: If they were in a US cave, with temperatures that can generally drop below 60 degrees, they could have developed fatal cases of hypothermia.

White said cave temperatures, as a rule of thumb, are usually around the average annual temperature for the area they’re located in — which, in the area near the cave, would generally be between 60 and 80 degrees, according to online weather websites.

White said that it’s when temperatures drop below 60 degrees that hypothermia becomes a threat. He also said it’s unlikely the cave in Thailand became too warm.


“That was probably something they had working in their favor,” he said.

The fact that they were surrounded by floodwater also “probably helped sustain them from dehydration,” White said.

According to news.com.au, the boys likely had access to freshwater — either dripping in though rocks or rushing in through the entrance — but experts warned that run-off water from nearby farms could carry dangerous chemicals or bacteria.

“If they drink the water in the caves and it makes them sick it could hasten the problem that they’re in, but if they don’t drink it then they’re also in trouble,” Mirza told AFP.

Although experts didn’t know at press time what kind of food — if any — the boys had with them, White said it was possible they could have been rationing provisions that they brought in with them: “But that’s speculation.”

“Healthy humans can go quite a while without eating and survive — although they’re certainly going to be weak,” he said. “We think them being athletic and strong is something in their favor.”

There also likely wouldn’t be any living creatures native to the cave that the group could catch and eat, White said, so any food they ate would likely have been brought in with them a week ago.

“There’s probably nothing there but rock and mud and water,” White said.

Anyone thinking of going caving should take the necessary precautions, White said, including attending training sessions, bringing the proper clothing and equipment, and researching the cave’s climate and environment ahead of time.


And although officials say the group has been found, there are still challenges for the rescuers to get the boys and their coach out, since high water levels and perilous passageways are still between the two parties. Mirza said the primary decision is whether to try to evacuate the boys and their coach or to supply them in place.

‘‘Supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are,’’ Mirza told the Associated Press in an e-mail on Monday. ‘‘Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy. That also begets the question: If the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.