‘Not Working’ – Doubts Raised Over Cave Rescue Plan

CHIANG RAI — Celebrity twin rescuers said Thursday that it’s too dangerous to bring 13 people out through the cave’s entrance, suggesting finding or making a rescue shaft might be a better option.

Anxiety is running high over the fate of the group which has been trapped inside the Luang Khun Nam Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province since June 23. Although flooding is a major obstacle and storms are expected soon, officials for now seem intent on a lowering water levels enough for them to come out the way they came.

But the star representative of a major rescue foundation said that, after four days, it’s “not working.”

“The water is still not going down. If you want it to go down by a meter, it’s going to take up to a month,” Bin Bunluerit said after finishing work with his team to widen chambers of the cave leading to the 12 boys and their coach. “Many people told me, please talk to someone, don’t make the kids escape through the water, it’s too risky.”

Bin has been working closely with the Ruamkatanyu Foundation, one of the nation’s largest rescue organizations.

The team is stuck on a sandy mound about five kilometers in from the main entrance, and water is still filling in many parts of the way out, according to Bin.

“I dare say this: What we’re doing every day here is not working,” he said. “Water is still there. From the third chamber, SEALs have to dive four to five hours to reach the boys.”

He was referring to the dry area of the cave where the rescue team set up a base camp. He also noted that the oxygen levels beyond this spot are falling low.

Flooding has complicated the operation from the start. Several parts of the cave are also extremely narrow and difficult to bring in necessary equipment.

“It’s very narrow, very difficult to bring things through. Only one person can go at a time,” said Ekkapun Bunluerit, Bin’s twin brother. “At first they had to take off the [oxygen] tanks and reassemble them again. It took a lot of time.”

“It’s very difficult because of all the diving. From the third chamber to the Pattaya Beach chamber, water is filling up the whole way, for very long. A SEAL has to use four tanks. It’s kilometers [of diving],” he continued.

Outgoing Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn, who’s been leading the operation, has said that the main plan is to pump water out until the level is low enough for the boys to come out through the main entrance.

That plan still seemed to be in motion Thursday, although the expected rainfall threatens the effort, according to one disaster official.

Sgt. Maj. 1st Class Saengpol Kaewlarn said ropes have been laid all the way to where the boys are trapped. They’re waiting for the water level to go down, and he hopes to see at least one of them walk out safely from the entrance.

“Every department is coordinating efforts to find the safest way for them,” he added.

Bin sees the opposite.

“I heard the kids said they heard sounds of chickens and dogs, which means there must be some shafts near them,” he said. “It’s totally safe. I don’t think we should risk diving. I want all 13 of them to be back.”

Ekkapun said more cautiously that getting them out through shafts could be less risky, but still “will be difficult.”

Yesterday, a team of bird nest hunters and cliff climbing experts were urgently called back to the operation by the military to explore shafts for an alternative escape.

Today, helicopters have also been flying over area throughout the day, suggesting more attention could be placed on finding a direct way to reach the boys from above the cave.