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Teen soccer team, coach found alive in Thailand cave

File Photo courtesy of the Royal Thai Army (This image taken before the team and their coach entered the cave).

July 2 (UPI) — A dozen teenage soccer players and their coach, who’d been trapped for nine days deep in a Thailand cave, were found alive Monday (July 2), officials said.
Authorities said all 13 members of the Wild Boar team are safe after the days-long search and rescue operation in the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai.
“Thai Navy SEALS have found all 13 with signs of life,” Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters, speaking about the divers that had spearheaded the search.
Osottanakorn said although the boys were safe, the mission wouldn’t be over until they were all safely brought out of the cave.
“Our mission is to search, rescue and return,” he said. “So far we just found them. Next mission is to bring them out from the cave and send them home.”
The missing boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach had been missing in the caves since June 23. They went into the caves for an excursion but were stranded by heavy rains and flooding.
Ekkapol Janthawong, the group’s coach, occasionally took the group on day trips. They went to the same cave two years ago.
Thai Navy SEAL divers had gone several miles into the cave complex after using pumps to reduce the water level, which allowed them to place guide ropes and air tanks along the route.
Rescuers believed the team was stuck in a deep chamber of the cave, known as Pattaya Beach.
U.S. military rescuers arrived at the site last week with three British cave experts to help in the search. Experts from China and Australia also responded.
Dozens of local and international rescuers, including a team of Thai navy divers and several cave experts, had spent the past few days helping to locate the team, but rising and muddy waters that showed no signs of receding stymied efforts and blocked access to chambers of the cave.
According to the Associated Press, rescuers drilled a hole into the side of the cave to try to drain the water, while others attempted to find alternative routes inside.
On Monday, however, a brief break in the weather allowed rescuers to go farther into the cave and kept water levels from rising, according to AFP. They had hoped to find the group, members of the Wild Boar soccer team, on an elevated ledge called Pattaya Beach, but that area also has been submerged. The group was found roughly 1,000 feet away, Narongsak told reporters.
The cave system is at least four miles long and waters can reach 16 feet during the rainy season, from June through October, Police Col. Kam Saardluan told the AP.
The next step would be to check on the team members’ health, Narongsak told reporters.
“We will take care of them until they can move,” he told reporters, who applauded at the news that the boys and the coach were safe, according to Agence France-Presse.
“We will bring food to them and a doctor who can dive. I’m not sure they can eat as they have not eaten for a while.”
Dozens of local and international rescuers, including a team of Thai navy divers and several cave experts, had spent the past few days helping to locate the team, but rising and muddy waters that showed no signs of receding stymied efforts and blocked access to chambers of the cave.
According to the Associated Press, rescuers drilled a hole into the side of the cave to try to drain the water, while others attempted to find alternative routes inside.
ABC News foreign correspondent James Longman tweeted that one of the rescuers told him the boys and their coach are weak but not in critical condition. A doctor will spend the night with the group and determine when the 13 are strong enough to be taken out.
“They’re 2 miles in, it’s an arduous trip. And the rain is coming. But they’re alive,” Longman said in the tweet.
A video obtained by CNN shows the group barefoot and huddled together inside the dark cave.
“How many of you are there?” one of the rescuers asks. “13?”
“Yes, 13,” one of them says.
“Brilliant,” the rescuer replies.
Next, officials plan to send divers to stay with the team and medical doctors to monitor their conditions, according to a statement the Royal Thai Navy posted on social media.
The next phase involves sending food that can last months while teaching all 13 survivors how to dive. Rescuers also plan to continue pumping water out of the cave complex, the navy said.
Steve Castonguay, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, said in a statement that the embassy would continue assisting rescue efforts to bring home the boys and their coach safely.
Steve Castonguay, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, said in a statement that the embassy would continue assisting rescue efforts to bring home the boys and their coach safely.