Thai officials say the twelve boys and their coach, who were found alive in a water-logged cave, are being supplied with four months' of food. Rescuers are exploring evacuation options.

Boys from an under-16 soccer team and their coach wait to be rescued after they were found trapped inside a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 3, 2018, in this still image taken from Thai Navy Seal handout video.
Boys from an under-16 soccer team and their coach wait to be rescued after they were found trapped inside a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 3, 2018, in this still image taken from Thai Navy Seal handout video. (Reuters)

Twelve boys and their football coach found alive in a Thai cave will be supplied with four months' worth of food and get diving training, the military said, as the focus shifted on Tuesday to the tricky task of getting the group safely out of the complex underground system.

Food and medical help reached 13 members of a Thai youth football team found hungry but alive late on Monday, huddled on a ledge deep inside a flooded cave nine days after they went missing.

The Thai military said it is providing months worth of food and diving lessons to the boys, discovered kilometres into the pitch-black and waterlogged Tham Luang network of caves in the country's monsoon-drenched north.

Much-needed food and medical supplies – including high-calorie gels and paracetamol – reached them on Tuesday as rescuers prepared for a prolonged extraction operation, with several chambers still submerged. 

"[We will] prepare to send additional food to be sustained for at least four months and train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water," Navy Captain Anand Surawan said, according to a statement from Thailand's Armed Forces. 

The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach disappeared when flooding trapped them after entering the cave on June 23.

'Mission impossible'

The astonishing rescue sparked jubilation across Thailand after the country mounted a massive and gruelling operation beset by heavy downpours and fast-moving floodwaters.

"We called this 'mission impossible' because it rained every day ... but with our determination and equipment we fought nature," Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said on Tuesday. 

The boys were discovered on Monday by British divers some 400 metres from where they were believed to be stranded several kilometres inside the cave. 

Video released early on Tuesday by the Thai navy showed the boys in their soccer uniforms sitting on a dry area inside the cave above the water as a spotlight, apparently from a rescuer, illuminated their faces.

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'100 percent safety'

Thai authorities said they are committed to "100 percent safety" when they consider how to extract the youth soccer team from the partially flooded cave.

Osatanakorn said on Tuesday morning that a Thai navy SEAL team will make the final call on the evacuation method. He said one method being considered is for the group to be coached to swim using special breathing masks.

He said other efforts will continue, such as draining water from the cave and exploring the mountainside for shafts and other entrances to the caverns below.

Osatanakorn said the 13 people have all had an "informal" medical evaluation inside the cave and most are in stable condition and none are in critical condition.

Experts have said the safest option could be to supply the 12 boys and their coach where they are and wait for the water levels to drop.

Thailand's rainy season typically lasts through October.

Risks involved

A leading American cave rescue expert said that many challenges are ahead for rescue divers.

Anmar Mirza, the US National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator, said the primary decision is now one of whether to try to evacuate them or to supply them in place.

He said "supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are. Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy."

He said that "if the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies