CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – Heavy rain hit northern Thailand late Saturday, worsening conditions in the cave, where rescuers conducted a "war on water and time" to rescue 12 captured boys and their football coach rescue within of days possible.
Relatives of the twelve schoolboys and their football trainer, caught in a flooded cave in the Tham Luang cave cook, for rescue workers and volunteers near the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 7, 201
8. REUTERS / Soe Zeya Tun 19659003] The rains could possibly repress the progress made last week to drain the Tham Luang Cave complex in northern Chiang Rai province.
With sinking levels of oxygen and forecasted rainstorms, time has run out to lead the boys – some only 11 years old and no strong swimmers – through tight, saturated passages challenging experienced speleologists.
The best window for a rescue could come in the next three or four days, said the leader of the rescue operation on Saturday.
Narongsak Osottanakorn's cautious message of hope came a day after the death of a Thai rescue diver, a grim turnaround in what began two weeks ago as an adventure to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys.
On top of the hill, where rescuers are looking for alternative ways into the cave, another accident happened on Saturday night: A vehicle slipped off a dirt road, severely injured the driver and passenger and injured four more volunteers.
Formerly, at the far-flung cave mouth below, lines of frogmen and soldiers were seen with flashlights emerging from the darkness, chugging as generators and pumping water from blue nylon tubes.
Dozens of Royal Thai Army soldiers rested on rocks outside the cave, two of whom said they had heard from superiors that the rescue would probably start on Sunday or the day after tomorrow.
The authorities tightened a safety latch and draped plastic sheeting around the cave's entrance, giving the impression that salvation was imminent.
This could not be confirmed independently from Reuters, but Narongsak, a former provincial governor, told reporters on Saturday that the next three to four days would be "the best and most ideal time for the rescue operation."
The current situation, with the air and water levels and the health of the boys, is the best so far, "he added." We're still at war with water and time. "
Soldiers show tattoos in near the Tham Luang Cave Complex, where 12 schoolboys and their football coaches are trapped in a flooded cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai in Thailand July 7, 2018. REUTERS / Soe Zeya Tun
The discovery of the boys in the cave by British Diver on Monday "was just a small victory," he said.
For the first time since they were found, the boys communicated by letter with their relatives – many camped outside the cave's entrance, and the boys wrote homesickness and humor The billionaire and entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted on Saturday that a rescue capsule and an inflatable tube he developed could help rescue him, he gave no details The Department of Defense said a team from a Musk company with drilling and exploration knowhow was due to reach the cave on Sunday.
Several monks in orange robes sat at a small shrine with two golden stag statues near the mouth of the cave and sang as a middle-aged woman knelt and prayed in front of them.
An assistant told Reuters that the ceremony should "open" the cave entrance to allow the boy to return safely and simply.
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Ivan Katadzic, a Danish instructor who brought oxygen tanks into the cave, said after a dive on Friday he was "doubly positive" about the mission because the water level had dropped significantly.
Katadzic has not bagged the last kilometer to the point where the boys stranded on a muddy bench, the most dangerous part of the dive, where rescuers must hold their oxygen tanks in front of them to squeeze through sunken holes. Alternative Rescue Plans include providing the cave with supplies and an oxygen line to keep the boys alive for months until Thailand's monsoon season ends, or to drill a shaft from the top of the forest.
Narongsak said the drills would have to pierce 600 meters (1,970 feet) of fragile limestone to reach the cubs, and the rescuers argued about drilling angles.
Aside from finding possible holes from above, the team on the hill tries to close holes and drain streams that channel water into the cave before the weather changes.
"Everything is a race against time," said Kamolchai Kotcha, a forest park official in which the cave complex is located. His team would camp on the hill to try to finish his job before the rain came, he said.
(Graphics: Hope for the 13 – tmsnrt.rs/2KR2zRj)
Additional coverage by Panu Wongcha-um and John Geddie; Writing by John Geddie; Arrangement of John Stonestreet