Dark labyrinth for Thai schoolboys on journey back to light

Boys were each led by two divers as they travelled 4km through pitch darkness

An ambulance reported to  carry some of the rescued Thai boys leaves the Tham Luang cave area after a rescue operation in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, Thailand. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

An ambulance reported to carry some of the rescued Thai boys leaves the Tham Luang cave area after a rescue operation in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, Thailand. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

 

Four boys accompanied by an elite team of rescue divers completed the hazardous journeyed to safety yesterday and were receiving medical treatment last night.

Efforts to bring the remaining eight boys and their adult coach to the surface were due to resume on this morning.

The boys were each being led by two divers as they wind 4km through pitch darkness, trudge through thick mud, clamber over slippery jagged rocks and dive through narrow passageways swirling with cold, strong currents.

“It’s dangerous to the most experienced divers to go through,” said one diver. “It’s pretty scary.”

The cave system, in a limestone mountain range bordering Myanmar in northern Thailand, has proven to be a formidable challenge for the international rescue coalition drawing some of the world’s best divers who have volunteered to help in the operation alongside Thai Navy SEALs.

Trapped

Dubbed “D-day” by the rescue team leader, the divers entered the wide cave mouth on Sunday morning to begin extracting the boys, accompanied by a whole contingent of emergency workers.

One cave explorer who has been inside the Tham Luang cave complex described it a “labyrinth”, adding it was much more difficult to navigate than any other he had experienced.

The first, nearly 1 kilometre (0.6 mile) long section from where the boys have been huddling in darkness is believed to be the most difficult, requiring a long dive and crawling through mud and debris, with some crevices barely wide enough for a person.

“The hole is really small, I have to take off my air tank to crawl through it,” a 25-year-old Thai Navy SEAL who declined to be named, told Reuters before the rescue attempt. “As I do, I feel the edges of the hole on both my back and chest.”

The British Cave Rescue Council, which has sent seven divers to assist in the rescue, said the death of a former Thai Navy SEAL last Friday as he dived within the cave was a reminder of the risks.

“This demonstrates in stark terms, the dangers associated with the cave environment, especially those characterised by long sections of passage with deep water or those entirely filled with water,” the association wrote on its website.

Escape route

An underground operations centre has been set up in the so-called “cavern 3”, after which there is a further 2-kilometre journey to reach the mouth of the cave.

The rescue team leader said that, in some of the larger caverns, extensive pumping had reduced water levels so that they were now walkable, even with the onset of fresh monsoon rain on Sunday.

Falling oxygen levels, and with many of the boys not able to swim well, present further risks should they panic as they are guided slowly through the pitch-black waters.

“It’s very dark inside even with the spotlight,” a former veteran SEAL, who had been recalled for this mission, told Reuters. “Most of the time we work with our instinct, in some position, alone in silence and in the dark.” – Reuters