Thai cave Q&A: What are the risks and how can the boys be rescued?

Key point is the fact none of the boys can swim, says veteran rescue diver

The dramatic discovery on Monday night of 12 boys and their football coach who were missing inside a cave in Thailand has captivated the world. Attention has now turned to the crucial task facing the Thai navy and the teams of international rescuers: getting the group to safety.

What are the options for getting the boys out?

They really don’t have any good options and much depends on what the rain is going to do in the next few weeks, says Anmar Mirza, US National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator. Trying to dive the children out is the most dangerous but also the fastest. Mirza says the big decision is, “Are they are in a safe place in the cave even if the water continues to rise?” If they’re safe, then the best option may be to supply them so they can survive while other options are developed.

Butch Hendricks, a veteran rescue diver and president of Lifeguard Systems in the US, says a key point is the fact none of the boys can swim. If they’re not afraid of the water, they can be put into equipment they can breathe with, and a full face mask. They may need custom wetsuits so they don’t get so hypothermic they can’t function. Because of the narrow passages, only one boy can be brought out at a time. Hendricks said: “If a problem occurs in that passageway, we’ve going to have a stall, then they will have a back-up, which could cause life and death.” He said the system would work like a relay, where each boy is passed between rescuers.

Peter Wolf, national director of the Cave Divers Association of Australia, believes the best option is to leave them where they are and stabilise their environment to make sure their essential needs are met. The environment is wet, so they must be kept warm and dry, and be provided with clean drinking water, food, and clean air. Depending on the size of the chamber they’re in, clean air is a real concern.


How long is the rescue operation likely to take?

Depending on what route they end up taking, it could be a few days to a few weeks to potentially two or three months, said Mirza.

Hendricks said it could be five to seven days until the first person comes out. If everything goes right, it could be anything from a couple of weeks to a month or more for the group.

Wolf said there was talk about leaving them in there for months and did not believe taking them out through the water was a viable option. They key factor is whether the water level can be reduced, either naturally or mechanically.

What are the main risks?

If going with the diving option, a rescuer dealing with an untrained diver can be fatal for both, said Mirza. The divers themselves can have trouble bringing equipment in.

Hendricks said the extremely narrow passageways meant there would be points where the rescuers would have had to take off their equipment, push it ahead of them and then put it back on.

Wolf said visibility was a key risk. It was likely to be very close to zero which meant they would be feeling their way along. Rescuers will be laying guidelines to their destination and to find their way out. – Guardian News and Media 2018