Mae Sai: The window of opportunity to free a trapped youth football team and their coach from a cave is “limited”, the Thai Navy SEAL commander said today, the first official admission that the boys cannot wait out the monsoon underground.
“At first, we thought the children could stay for a long time… but now things have changed, we have a limited time,” Apakorn Yookongkaew said.
The diver’s death raises serious doubts over the safety of attempting to bring the 12 boys and their football coach out through cramped passageways deep inside the waterlogged Tham Luang cave.
But Thailand’s Navy SEAL commander indicated that rescuers may have little choice but to attempt the tricky extraction of the group in comments on Friday, in the first official admission that they cannot wait out the monsoon underground.
A sombre mood has clouded the elation from earlier in the week when the boys were found dishevelled and hungry but alive on a ledge kilometres inside the cave.
The diver, identified as Saman Kunont, 38, passed out and died while returning from the chamber where the boys are trapped.
Chiang Rai deputy governor Passakorn Boonyaluck delivered the “sad news” of the diver’s death to reporters massed at the entrance to the cave complex.
“On his way back he lost consciousness,” Navy Seal commander Apakorn said, adding he died despite the desperate efforts of his to help bring him out. “We lost one man, but we still have faith to carry out our work.”
Asked how the boys could make it out safely if an experienced diver could not, Apakorn said they would take more precautions with the children.
Even for expert divers, the journey is an exhausting 11-hour round trip. “It’s very risky (diving out). Think about it, a Navy Seal just passed away last night, so how about a 12-year-old kid,” said Rafael Aroush, an Israeli volunteer helping the rescue bid.
Officials vowed to investigate the death, and have sent his body to a local hospital for an autopsy.
The accident marks the first major setback for the gargantuan effort, which started almost two weeks ago after the “Wild Boars” team went into the cave in northern Thailand following football practice. Their ordeal has gripped Thailand, with the nation holding its breath for their safe escape. Messages of support and prayers for the boys have flooded social media.
About 110 Thai navy SEAL divers are participating in the cave complex, along with other divers from Thailand, the United States, Britain, China, Australia and other countries.