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Good weather, tough circumstances in Thailand cave rescue

A break in the rain spurs talk of a quick extraction attempt

Military personnel cooked dinner at the makeshift camp at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai, Thailand.y
Military personnel cooked dinner at the makeshift camp at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai, Thailand.y

They are the soccer team that has brought a polarized country together: 12 boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, trapped in the vast and monsoon-flooded Tham Luang Cave network in northern Thailand since June 23.

Officials are now deciding how, and when, to get the starvation-weakened team back out through treacherous, tight, and flooded passages. None have ever used scuba gear, and at least some don’t know how to swim at all.

On Thursday, the third straight day of relatively little rain at the cave complex raised speculation that Thai officials were considering a hurried evacuation attempt.

But several factors weighed against such a decision. Officials said the boys were still relatively weak, even after a few days of food and medicine. And very basic training for them in how to navigate cramped and flooded passageways, in unfamiliar breathing equipment, had only begun.

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Narongsak Osottanakorn, commander of the rescue operation, said officials were weighing their options as they monitored the weather and had yet to decide on the best course.

“If it rains and the water volume increases, we have to calculate, how much time do we have? How many hours, how many days?” Narongsak said. “If the water increases, we will go back to where we were.”

Some officials have advocated keeping the group in the cave for as long as four months, until the water level subsides.

Others have argued for having divers take the boys and their coach out of the cave complex much sooner.

Rescuers have prepared detailed plans and made
their checklists, Narongsak said.

“How many sets of equipment needed? Thirteen sets,” he said. “How many people to assist? Two to one, three to one. Everything is planned. The ambulances are ready. But the plan for inside? Not everybody can go in. The hole is very narrow. Those are the obstacles.”

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In an indication of those dangers, a former Thai navy SEAL working as part of the rescue effort died Friday from lack of oxygen, authorities said.

SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference Friday morning that the rescuer was working in a volunteer capacity and died during an overnight mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters.

He said that while underwater, the rescuer passed out and efforts to resuscitate him failed.

‘‘Despite this, we will continue until we accomplish our mission,’’ Arpakorn said.


Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.