Senior Thai government officials warned Wednesday that time is running out to rescue teenage boys and their soccer coach, believed trapped in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand for days, and that the search to find other entry points into the cave system has taken on a new urgency.
“We will try to find other ways apart from underwater rescue because the clock is ticking,” Thai Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said. “The boys (have) been in there for over 72 hours.”
Rescue teams are working on access to the Tham Luang Nang Non caves from other locations above and have used new maps from the Thai Department of Mineral Resources to narrow the search area.
Heavy rains have halted helicopter sorties to find possible alternative entrances into the caves, and there has been no drone activity either.
But the interior minister said he was confident that the missing boys and their coach were likely alive, as they have food, and, as athletes, are physically strong. He added they had visited the caves before, giving them an advantage.
Photos of the missing boys have emerged as the efforts ramp up to locate them.
The photos, from the Facebook page of the soccer team’s 25-year-old coach, show the older man standing with the smiling teen and preteen boys.
The 12 boys range in age from 11 to 16, according to a list of names collected from families waiting at the cave entrance and distributed by officials. The group is suspected to have disappeared from that area Saturday.
No new evidence of the boys’ location or condition has been found, other than bags and shoes discovered earlier this week, army Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakum told journalists Wednesday.
A joint force of about 1,000 army, navy, local administrative workers and volunteers are at the site, he said. The US government is sending experts to assist in the rescue effort, according to the army official. They were expected to land in northern Thailand on Wednesday in hopes of starting work Thursday, he said.
Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osotthanakorn had earlier told families that teams are “working around the clock” to find the boys and their coach, and that rescuers are focusing on draining water to allow access to the flooded cave complex.