Rescuers racing against time as rains threaten to flood cave, and oxygen levels drop
A retired seal of the navy of Thailand has died during an operation to bring much-needed oxygen to 13 people trapped inside a cave. The seal, Petty Officer Saman Gunan, lost consciousness when his own oxygen ran out on a return trip through a complicated tunnel.
Thai rescuers are racing against time to rescue the 13—a 25-year-old soccer coach and his team of a dozen boys, ages 11-16. Monsoon rains are expected on Sunday, which will surely flood the cave system even further, and oxygen levels inside the area where the team is trapped have dropped to 15 percent. The normal level is 21 percent.
The team has been trapped for nearly two weeks. They entered when the cave was dry, but heavy rains quickly filled parts of the long tunnel, blocking their way out. They are about 2.5 miles from the cave mouth.
Teams of Thai and international divers have since supplied them with food, oxygen and medical attention. Four Thai seals, including a doctor, are staying with the trapped group.
Petty Officer Gunan, 38, had retired from the navy but return in order to offer his help in the rescue. He was delivering air tanks in the Tham Luang cave complex in northern Thailand.
Military personnel have been pumping water out of the cave, but if the operation cannot hold the water level down, they will have to try to teach the boys to use diving equipment in order to bring them out through a tunnel that is in places very small. None has ever used scuba equipment, and some of the boys do not know how to swim.
Meanwhile, some locals are searching in the hills for unknown entrances to the cave system, but none has yet been found.
“If a rescue attempt fails, leaving the boys to wait out the rain brings with it another danger: that the sinkholes and streams in the hills above could flood the chamber completely,” reported the BBC.
Meanwhile, one of the men rescued from a mine in Chile in 2010 sent a video message of hope to the trapped boys.
“We are praying for each of you, for each of the families and for these children,” said Mario Sepulveda, who was the second of more than 30 miners pulled to safety in a specially built capsule after being trapped for more than two months, according to the New York Times.