Thai divers advance as cave search for lost footballers gains ground; China provides underwater robots
As the rescue operation proceeds into the ninth day on Sunday for the search of 12 boys and their football coach in Thailand, several foreign experts joined the rescue operation. The China rescuers provided underwater robots for the rescue operation, news agency Reuters reported.
The children, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach have not been heard from since they ventured into the recesses of the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on Saturday and were blocked by heavy rains.
The rains have stopped now the divers have established a forward operating base inside the twisting chambers, raising hopes that the "Boars", as the team is known, could be located soon.
"Today is a bright day for me and our team. We have sunlight today, roads are easily walkable," Narongsak Osottanakorne, governor of Chiang Rai province, informed local media.
Teams of foreign experts from Australia, England, Japan and China, including more than 30 US military personnel, have descended on the remote mountainous site to join some 1,000 Thai rescuers but so far no traces have been found.
He said water levels in the cave had decreased and that almost 60 foreign and Thai divers were involved in the rescue effort.
"Today what we have to do is to rush to the kids," Thai Navy Seal commander and Rear Admiral Apakorn Yookongkaew were quoted as saying by AFP earlier at the site. "We will not stop until we find them."
Responders are placing extra oxygen tanks, strong ropes and LED lights along the cave's walls in hopes they can provide a path to an airy chamber called Pattaya Beach where officials believe the 13 are taking refuge because of its elevation.
Rescuers have advanced 600 metres from the base towards the Pattaya site, while heavy drilling at separate chimneys outside the cave has started in an attempt to establish communication with the boys.
The upbeat attitude comes after a week of heavy rains pounded the area near the Myanmar and Laos borders, making it difficult to reach deeper into Tham Luang.
"I'm feeling happy like I've never felt in a long time. Many good signs," the football team's head coach Nopparat Khanthavong was quoted as saying by AFP.
"The rain has stopped and rescue teams have found potential ways to reroute the waterway", diverting its flow so no more enters the cave, he said. "The families are feeling much better too."
(With inputs from news agencies)