Thai Cave Boys May Need to Learn to Swim in Order to Escape, Rescuers Say

Many of the boys can't swim, which may be key to their rescue.

by Josie Rhodes Cook

Rescuers found 12 missing boys and their soccer coach alive on Monday, after they had been trapped in a cave in Thailand for nine days. The young soccer team is currently stuck inside a cave complex in northern Thailand because of flooding, and the best way for them to get out may be by swimming.

But there’s one big problem with that plan: Some of the boys can’t swim.

NPR reports that the boys and their 25-year-old coach have two main options to get out of their current, precarious situation. They either need to dive their way out of the cave or wait until the water that flooded the cave recedes, so they can get out through the exit tunnels that flooded enough that they couldn’t get out in the first place.

The monsoon season in Thailand may not end for three or four months, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s a very long time to make those kids wait to get out of the cave, and the conditions in the cave could change at any time, especially as the weather is expected to worsen later this week.

So having the boys swim out may be the best option. Rescue experts say that could be really dangerous, especially considering they have no previous experience with scuba gear. The boys are getting a “crash course” in diving in the hopes that they can be evacuated that way, The Independent reported Wednesday.

The tiger cave in Tham Pha Thai, Thailand.

Wikimedia / Jk54545

Chiang Rai province governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said at a news conference on Wednesday that the boys have been practicing wearing diving masks and breathing with them, and they’ve reportedly tried out other diving equipment.

But the boys have not yet worked with the equipment in the water. “The water is very strong and space is narrow,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters in Thailand. “Extracting the children takes a lot of people. Now we are teaching the children to swim and dive.”

The situation is further complicated by the fact that these boys didn’t eat for several days and have muscle atrophy, according to The South China Morning Post. In addition, the dive to escape is difficult even for skilled divers. When rescue divers went in for the group, in some areas of the cave system, the passages were so tight rescuers had to remove some of their gear and push it ahead of them.

If the high water levels fall, the plan is to extricate the boys quickly. More than 2,500 gallons of water an hour are being pumped out of the cave to try to make the dive out easier, which would be good news for the amateur swimmers.

But more rain is expected soon. So unless it’s determined that the team needs to wait even longer to get out, learning to swim and attempting an escape with skilled divers may be in the very near future for these boys.

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