Death of diver shows difficulty of Thai cave rescue, rain forecast

That it took nine days to find the thirteen people trapped deep in a cave in Thailand indicated the serious of their predicament.

It didn’t take long for warnings to be made about how difficult it would be getting them out of the flooded cave system, especially with the looming threat of several months of monsoon rains.

And the risks have been emphasised even more with the death of an expert diver, who ran out of oxygen on his way back out of the cave after dropping off oxygen tanks along the exit route.

BBC: Ex-navy diver dies on oxygen supply mission

Petty Officer Saman Gunan lost consciousness on his way out of the Tham Luang cave complex, where he had been delivering air tanks.

The group was found by British rescue divers after 10 days in the cave, perched on a rock shelf in a small chamber about 4km (2.5 miles) from the cave mouth.

Teams of Thai and international divers have since supplied them with food, oxygen and medical attention, but there are mounting concerns about the oxygen level in the chamber, which officials said had fallen to 15%. The usual level is 21%.

The death of Saman – a highly trained diver – on Thursday underscored the danger of moving from the chamber to mouth of the cave, and raised serious doubts about the safety of bringing the boys out through the cramped, flooded passageways.

The diver died after losing consciousness in one of the passageways, said Passakorn Boonyaluck, deputy governor of the Chiang Rai region, where the cave is situated.

“His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back,” Mr Passakorn said.

Very sad.

On the surface, a huge military and civilian rescue operation is racing against the clock to bring the boys to safety. Heavy monsoon rains are expected on Sunday, threatening further flooding.

Officials had initially considered leaving the boys in the chamber to wait out the rainy season – which could have seen them trapped there for up to four months.

But Thailand’s Navy Seal commander suggested on Thursday that the divers may now have little choice but to attempt a daring emergency rescue – fraught with danger for the boys, who are aged 11 to 16 and some of whom cannot swim.

The latest news: Thailand cave rescue: no attempt to get boys out tonight, says governor

That was last night Thai time. It is nearly two weeks since they got trapped in the cave.

Official says even if rains start overnight, the football team ‘cannot dive at this time’

“There is no chance the boys will come out today. it is not suitable. they still cannot dive.”

He says the British diver, who came out of the cave at 9pm (local time), reported that the boys were fine.

The governor adds that he speaks to the families every day and asks if they want him to bring out the children right now. He says he wants the minimum risk before attempting the rescue.

If it rains, he says, the authorities “will try” to bring them out.

Efforts today to find appropriate locations to drill a shaft down to the stranded footballers were unsuccessful, meaning that the only viable option out is via the tunnels.

More: Full report: Falling oxygen levels add to risks of delays

Oxygen levels in their chamber may have fallen to about 15%, the deputy army commander Chalongchai Chaiyakham said at a briefing on Friday. Normal oxygen levels in the air are about 21%.

So many people – the boys, and the rescuers – in confined spaces are using up the available oxygen.

Updates from authorities throughout the week have emphasised the dangers of shepherding the boys through the cave to the exit, but the oxygen issues that emerged on Friday highlight the risks of keeping the boys in place during the monsoon.

Major decisions face those leading the rescue attempt. Very difficult decisions.

The cave is in Chiang Rai, which is in the north of Thailand:

Google Maps

Wikipedia:

Thailand is divided into three seasons.The first is the rainy or southwest monsoon season (mid–May to mid–October) which prevails over most of the country. This season is characterized by abundant rain with August and September being the wettest period of the year.

Nonetheless, dry spells commonly occur for 1 to 2 weeks from June to early July.

The boys and there coach became trapped just before a current dry spell.

This from weather.com shows the imminence of rain:

 

 

Questions about going into Thai cave during monsoon season

It was great news that the twelve boys from a soccer team and their coach were found alive deep inside a cave system in Thailand.

Guardian: Thailand cave rescue: where were the boys found and how can they be rescued?

When 12 missing Thai boys and their football coach were found alive deep in a cave system on Monday, joy was tempered with anxiety. The caves are flooded with surging monsoon waters, pitch black and in places too narrow to allow rescuers to pass while carrying scuba gear. None of the boys can swim or dive. The dilemma: risk a highly dangerous escape or wait possibly months for the waters to subside.

News.com.au: Next 24 hours will be crucial in Thai cave rescue drama

A CAVE explorer assisting Thai authorities trying to rescue 12 trapped schoolboys believes “we’ll know in the next 24 hours” if they will live or die.

British cave expert Vern Unsworth, who lives in Thailand, said the conditions were getting worse and there was now a narrow window in which the group could escape.

“I think we’ll know in the next 24 hours…We’ll keep our fingers crossed – everybody needs to pray and hope for a good outcome,” Mr Unsworth told the BBC.

The boys aged between 11 and 16, along with their football coach, have been trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave system for 12 days.

But heavy monsoon rain is coming, and Mr Unsworth said rain that had already fallen had caused a dramatic rise in water levels in the cave.

Obviously the rescue is the most important thing right now.

But I have to ask why they were in the cave at all in the monsoon season, especially if it could take months for the rainy season to finish and for waters to subside.

Is the level of flooding unusual, even during the monsoon? Or is it a common risk?

Wikipedia says that the Thai monsoon runs from May to October, so flooding must have been a risk for some time.