Warm in blankets, Thai boys smile, joke with rescuer in cave

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MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — Their skinny faces illuminated by a flashlight, the Thai soccer teammates stranded for nearly two weeks in a partly flooded cave said in a video released Wednesday that they were healthy, as heavy rains forecast for later this week threatened to complicate plans to safely extract the boys.

The 12 boys and their coach are seen in the video sitting with Thai navy SEALs in the dark cave. The boys, many wrapped in foil warming blankets, take turns introducing themselves, pressing their hands together in a traditional Thai greeting and saying their names and that they are healthy.

The video, lasting about a minute, was recorded sometime Tuesday and was posted on the navy SEAL Facebook page Wednesday morning. The navy later released two more videos of the boys.

The boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach disappeared after they went exploring in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Chiang Rai province after a soccer game June 23. The teammates, who were trapped inside when heavy rains flooded the cave, were found by rescue divers Monday night during a desperate search that drew assistance from experts around the globe.

Authorities said the boys, who had also been shown Tuesday in a video shot by the British diver who discovered them, were being looked after by seven members of the Thai navy SEALs, including medics, who were staying with them inside the cave. They were mostly in stable condition and have received high-protein drinks.

In all of the videos, the boys appeared in good spirits. In the most recent video, a navy SEAL is shown treating minor cuts on the feet and legs of the boys with antibiotic ointment. Several of the boys are seen smiling as they interact with the navy SEAL, who cracks jokes.

Seeing the boys has boosted the mood of their family members, and officials are working to install an internet cable to the cave so that parents can talk to their children.

Kian Kamluang, whose 16-year-old son, Pornchai, is in the cave, said she had thought there was a 50 percent chance that her son would be found.

"It's like he has been given a new life," she said, adding that she'll never let her son go into a cave or near water again.

Those waiting for the boys to come out included a group of students who are friends with some of the boys trapped inside, who sang a song in front of the entrance to show their support.

Several religious figures have also shown up, the most popular being a famous Buddhist monk, Kruba Boonchum, who when he first visited the scene had predicted that the boys would be found this week.

He returned Wednesday to offer prayers for their safe rescue, and as measure of the respect in which he was held, was allowed access to the cave, which is generally off-limits to outsiders.

In this July 3, 2018, image taken from video provided by the Thai Navy Seal, Thai boys are with Navy SEALs inside the cave, Mae Sai, northern Thailand.
In this July 3, 2018, image taken from video provided by the Thai Navy Seal, Thai boys are with Navy SEALs inside the cave, Mae Sai, northern Thailand.

SEAL commander Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew said Tuesday that there was no rush to bring the group out of the cave, since they're safe where they are. The current flooding situation means the boys would have to dive, which rescue experts have said could be extremely dangerous.

While efforts to pump out floodwaters are continuing, some Thai officials have indicated that heavy rains forecast for this weekend could force them to decide the boys should swim and dive out using the same complicated route of narrow passageways through which their rescuers entered.

Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said Wednesday that the boys have been practicing wearing diving masks and breathing, but he doesn't believe they have attempted any practice dives.

He said it is unknown when an extraction could be attempted, but it is unlikely to be Wednesday.

"If it's risky or not safe, we will not proceed yet," Narongsak said. "It has to be 100 percent safe."

He also said the boys and their coach may not all be extracted at the same time, depending on their health. He said authorities will evaluate their readiness each day and if there is any risk will not proceed.

Authorities said they were still exploring other options, such as scouring the mountainside for other ways into the cave and finding faster ways to pump water from the cave.

Cave rescue experts have said it could be safest to simply supply the boys where they are for now, and wait for the water to go down. That could take months, however, given that Thailand's rainy season typically lasts through October.

Experienced divers are wary of taking out the boys through the dark and dangerous waters still in the cave, especially since they are untrained.

"We are talking kilometers of transport under the water with zero visibility," said Claus Rasmusen, a certified cave diving instructor based in Thailand who has been helping Thai SEAL team with logistics. "It's difficult."

He said it was awkward, but possible, to teach them minimal skills.

"Nobody will teach anyone a full cave course, but trying to get them comfortable with masks, with the breathing, (is) completely different," he said. "Creating an environment that can make them safely get away, that's feasible."

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