The trapped Thai boys’ soccer team may be able to walk out of their underground cave nightmare in time for the World Cup Final if a rescue plan works.
The 12 boys and their coach are trapped 2.5 miles inside the Tham Luang Nan Nong caves about 500 feet underground.
They have perched on to narrow rock ledges for 12 days while rescuers searched the caves to find them.
They walked in but were marooned when waters from torrential rains flooded the lower caverns and tunnels they passed through.
The fear is they may drown if a forecast downpour floods the caves even more over the coming days.
A military rescue plan has coupled hundreds of industrial pumps to drain the waters along their exit route.
The Thai authorities say the water has gone down by 40% in the past few days, opening their exit halfway.
The major hazard is a cavern that is flooded to the roof and as most of the boys cannot swim, divers are teaching them how to traverse the danger with scuba gear.
The trip out is through dark, dank and muddy caves with jagged rocks. Even experienced cave rescue divers take around five hours to find their way out of the complex.
“We are targeting the water in the chamber to reduce to the point that no diving equipment is needed, like to the waistline, so one can wear just life jackets and walk out,” said a spokesman for the rescue team.
Search for shaft exit
But if the cavern remains flooded, the boys aged between 11 and 16, could stay trapped for months if the waters rise again.
Divers and medics who have reached the boys say most are cheerful and healthy. Two or three are reporting stomach disorders.
“The boys are practising how to dive, and we are ready to bring out those that feel they want to attempt to exit,” said the rescue team spokesman. “They don’t all have to come out at once.
“We are aware heavy rains are expected on Sunday.”
Rescuers are also searching for an alternative way to reach the boys.
They explained the cave where they are sitting is still full of air even though cut off by the floods, so air must be coming in from a shaft to the surface elsewhere.