A search in northern Thailand for 12 boys and their soccer coach, missing inside a flooded cave, has entered its sixth day.
- Prayuth Chan-ocha offered encouragement to rescuers
- Bicycles and soccer shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance
- International rescue teams are assisting Thai Army
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site, offering encouragement to rescuers and comfort to relatives.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old assistant coach, went missing on Saturday after they decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province, despite a sign warning visitors the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.
Bicycles and soccer shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group. But the search has so far yielded no other trace.
The boys and their coach left bicycles and other belongings at the entrance to the cave. (AP: Tassanee Vejpongsa)
The race to find the boys has gripped the South-East Asian nation, and Mr Prayuth spoke to rescue workers before going inside the cave.
“Whatever can be done, do it, the Government will back it,” he said.
“I’m not worried about the work of the staff, but I’m worried about time elapsed for those lost inside the cave.
“I’ve come to give everyone encouragement.”
Prayut Chan-ocha said he was worried about time elapsed for those lost inside the cave. (Reuters: Soe Zeya Tun)
International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.
Plans to drill into the mountain side overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.
“We were able to drill on the side,” Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said.
The 10-kilometre cave is one of Thailand’s longest. Visitors are usually only allowed up to 800 metres inside the cave, which has a reputation for being difficult to navigate.
A man who got lost inside the cave in 2002 along with four friends recalled his experience inside the “labyrinth”, saying it was a miracle he got out alive.
Rescuers gather in the staging area to search for the team missing since Saturday. (AP: Tessanee Vejpongsa)
Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.
Mr Prayuth spoke to family members after visiting the cave.
“They’re athletes. They’re strong,” he told the boys’ relatives in an attempt to comfort them.
As the rescue teams continue the search for the lost ones, social media users in Thailand show their support by sending messages of hope.
Many images include illustrations of the boys, as well as rescuers, and are accompanied by lines of encouragement, such as “be strong”, “don’t give up” and “please come home”.