GUIDED by information from local residents, search teams are seeking ceiling entrances to a cave in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district where a group of 12 teenagers and their football coach went missing at the weekend.
Pol Colonel Rangsiman Songkrautham, a border patrol police commander, said that according to the information, there were two ceiling passages leading into the cave.
“We will check the information by dispatching teams to survey the area on foot and by helicopter. If confirmed, it would boost our chances of finding the missing group,” he said.
Search teams could descend into the cave from entrances, he said, adding to rescue efforts that until now have required diving into water from the cave entrance.
Search teams comprising Army, police and Navy SEAL units yesterday worked day and night to find the 12 young footballers and their 25-year-old coach who entered Tham Luang-Khunnam Nang Non cave in the forest park of the same name on Saturday afternoon.
The missing youths are members of a local football team, the Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai. It’s thought that they entered the cave but could not exit as a flash flood blocked their way out.
Authorities were alerted during the weekend by a mother of one of the players, who said her son had not come home. His last message to her was that he was visiting the cave with his team and coach, she said. Investigators found 11 bikes belonging to the missing footballers at the cave entrance.
Their families are waiting near the cave amid heavy rain, holding on to the hope that their loved ones are safe. Some have held religious rites there, praying for the children’s safety. They are receiving regular updates on the situation from the rescue mission.
Authorities have warned others to stay away from the area to prevent them from obstructing the rescue work.
The Navy’s SEAL unit arrived at the site at 2.45am yesterday and was divided into four groups who took turns to dive into the cave.
They drilled holes into two separate halls inside the cave in a bid to locate the missing group, but found only footprints and handprints, which nevertheless raised hopes that the missing were still alive. The SEALS carried food and water in case they found the missing teens, who would be hungry after being trapped since the weekend. On Sunday, diving teams found slippers in the cave.
A rescue team has been pumping air into the cave to increase the available oxygen, while the authorities have minimised use of machines near the entrance to ensure that carbon monoxide does not seep into the cave.
Meanwhile photos on the Facebook page of coach Ekkapon Chantawongse show the group previously visited the cave. The photos were date-stamped December 30, 2016 with a caption explaining the visit was part of pre-match preparations.
The photos suggest Ekkapon was close to his team, as they show him with the players on and off the field.
Yesterday divers had to work under muddy water up to five metres deep, with levels in the cave rising due to heavy rain in the afternoon. The search was suspended at about 6pm yesterday due to the rising water level in the cave.