Youth Soccer Team Found In Cave After Rescue Workers From Across The Globe Came To Help

The boys and their soccer coach had been missing for nine days.

A youth soccer team has been found in northern Thailand's Tham Luang Nang cave, a six-mile maze of underground passages. Now, the next step is to rescue them.

The 12 boys and their coach went missing nine days ago and were found by two volunteer British divers, who were working alongside teams of search and rescue workers from all over the world, according to The Guardian. Rick Stanton and John Volanthen are world experts in cave rescue and have worked across the globe during similar search and rescue missions. 

"They were pushing ahead with the other divers following on behind, creating dumps of air bottles," Bill Whitehead, vice chair of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC), told The Guardian. "They managed to dive the last section and get through into the chamber where the missing party were on a ledge above the water."

When they were found, the boys, aged 11 to 16, asked the British duo what day it was and how long they had been in the cave. Missing since June 23, the entire group had managed to survive with little water and no food. They were too weak to move, CNN reported, but the divers explained that an entire group of rescue workers was trying to figure out how to get them out.

Because of the nature of the flooded cave, several rescue teams had failed to find the boys while family members of the children huddled around the entrance to the cave performing ritual prayers. Meanwhile, back above the surface, Thai officials noted that the young boys were athletes and frequently went on adventures as a team. 

Now that they have been located, another challenge awaits: getting the boys out. It took the divers three hours to get to them and three hours to get back out, even with their diving expertise and the aid of water pumps which have sucked enough water out to flood nearby farms. Because of seasonal rains, the only way to exit the cave where the boys are trapped is to swim underwater for extended periods of time, a dive that has been challenging even for members of the Royal Thai Navy. 

"The water level in the cave is still very high, so we have to teach them how to swim to come out from there," Narongsak Osottanakorn, the provincial governor, told reporters, per People. "We will give them diver masks, but only the rescue teams can decide whether they can be brought out safely in this way."

If the boys can't manage the swim, they could be stuck in the cave for as long as four months, until the monsoon rains end and the water recedes. Some rescue workers who reached them brought "food and energy supplements, salt water solution, anti-inflammatory drugs and basic painkillers," according to NBC News. Two Thai Navy doctors have also volunteered to stay with the team and treat them during the ordeal.

"I would like to say thank you to all the foreigners who have come to help," Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said at a news conference on Tuesday, per NBC News. "The work would not be successful if we didn't get help from everyone lending a hand in whatever way they can."

Cover image via LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images.

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