A group of 12 teenage boys and their football coach have been found alive on Monday, July 2 after being trapped in a cave in Thailand for nine days. Government officials say the 11 to 16-year-old boys and their 25-year-old coach show “all signs of life” and are currently in the process of being rescued.

The boys biked with their coach to the six-mile Tham Luang Nang Non cave after practice on June 23 and allegedly crawled through a 45-foot tunnel to try to find the center cavern. The group had explored the cave before, but torrential downpours flooded the exit tunnels. Non-stop heavy rain prevented rescue divers from reaching the boys until now. Teams worked to advance miles within the cave while pumping out floodwater and groundwater, and after finding the group’s location, they’re now devising plans to supply them with food, water, and medical attention while configuring an escape route.

Even professional cavers can find themselves in fatal situations, but this amateur group of young explorers wasn’t adequately prepared with supplies in the case of being trapped, especially for over a week underground. Four factors that had to be grappled with were staying hydrated, warm, away from floodwaters, and in an area with enough oxygen to breathe.

How Did the Group Avoid Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a major concern when trapped in a wet, underground cave. Fortunately, the ambient temperature in Tham Luang Nang Non is predicted to be between 73 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but experts still said the boys should have wrung out their wet clothes and huddled together at nighttime for warmth. The floodwaters themselves could get significantly colder, so the boys had to have found high enough ground to avoid being even partially submerged.

Where Did the Boys Get Water?

Drinking fresh water is a survival necessity. Three to four days is a conservative estimate for how long the human body can go without water. Fortunately, tactics ranging from drinking spring water, which the boys probably did, to licking condensed droplets from cave walls have enabled trapped explorers to survive in similar conditions. Dirty water from rain and mud could cause stomach aches, vomiting, and diarrhea, but even dirty water is safer than no water at all.

How Did the Group Get Oxygen?

For oxygen, the openings in the ground leading into the cave and tunnels would provide pockets of breathable air. Emergency services have been dropping food into the tunnels from said holes, hoping they’re close enough to the boys that they can recover the supplies. When the tunnels began to flood, the group first retreated from the Tham Luang Nang Non’s primary tourist attraction, an elevated ledge dubbed “Pattaya Beach,” about 900 feet further into the cave to avoid the rising waters. The first order of business for those trapped in caves is to navigate to the highest point of elevation.

Tiger cave, ThamPhaThai, Lampang 20
The tiger cave in Tham Pha Thai, Thailand.

How Can the Group Be Rescued?

A thousand Thai soldiers and civilians were joined by technical experts and divers from six countries to navigate the narrow tunnels. Helicopters searching for possible entry points, drones seeking heat signatures, and divers swimming through pitch-black tunnels all turned up empty until the pumping combined with a brief respite from the rain allowed the expedition team to reach the boys’ location.

Now, the question becomes how to get them out. Drilling through the rock walls of the cave is an option, and potentially the best available, because taking inexperienced divers back through floodwaters, even with the necessary supplies, is dangerous. In the meantime, medical teams that can assess the boys’ health have been sent in to develop a more detailed plan for care and evacuation.

Photos via Wikimedia / Jk54545, Wikimedia / Apijate1632