Divers reach further in Thai cave in search of missing footballers


A rescuer stands in front of the entrance to the flooded cave complex in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, Sunday, July 1.

A team of Thai Navy Seal divers and Australian Federal Police officers with cave diving experience, have pushed through the murk of a half-mile-long chamber to a passageway that could lead to where the missing boys possibly took shelter, said the Seals' commander, Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yookongkaew.

The desperate, round-the-clock search for the team has been beset by torrential downpours that submerged tunnels near the entrance, blocking divers from going in.

"We are fighting against time and water to save the 13 lives", Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.

They had been forced back from that location by rising floodwaters earlier in the week.

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"Today we aim to have 600 air cylinders in the cave, so the team can operate and stay in the cave without coming out", he said. In addition to pumping out the flooded chambers, there have been efforts to find the source of the water flooding the cave in order to drain or divert it.

Thai medical experts say the group's survival depends on whether they find fresh drinking water.

"If they drink the water in the caves and it makes them sick it could hasten the problem that they are in, but if they don't drink it then they are also in trouble", said Anmar Mirza, the US National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator.

Hopes were also high for finding some kind of access through fissures on the mountainside that might lead to shafts into the cave.

Experts in cave rescues from around the world continued to gather at the site.

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The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach entered Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province on June 23.

The Australian team has joined forces with 11 Chinese rescue experts, up to 32 United States forces personnel, three British divers and a British cave expert as well as rescue teams from Myanmar and Laos who are already there.

The labyrinth is popular with tourists and for the first kilometer (0.6 miles) or so inside the cavernous entrance, limestone rock formations hug high ceilings, creating an nearly amphitheater-like atmosphere. Though this is not the first natural chimney found on Pha Mee, it remains the most promising, according to search and rescue teams on site.

Weary-faced relatives have camped out at the cave's entrance for more than a week, desperately waiting for news from the boys, while the head of the Buddhist clergy has urged prayers from a nation fixated on the fate of the group.

Divers from the Thai navy's elite SEAL unit were groping their way through the murky waters filling passages of the 10 km underground maze of the Tham Luang cave.

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Rescuers found footprints and handprints in a chamber earlier in the week, further in from where they had found the kids' football boots, backpacks and bicycles.