Members of the U.S. military have joined in the rescue efforts at northern Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang cave, where 12 children and their soccer coach have been trapped for the past five days.
The AFP reported that “around 1,000 Navy SEAL divers, police, soldiers, border guards and officials” have been called in for “the around-the-clock rescue” — with pararescue and survival specialists from the U.S. Pacific Command joining British divers at the scene overnight.
Heavy rains and rushing floodwaters have hampered the search for the Wild Boars soccer team, whose members have been trapped in the flooded cave since Saturday.
The area is located in a remote and mountainous part of Chiang Rai province near the Laos and Myanmar borders. The cave itself is nearly six miles long, the AFP reported, and is one of the toughest and longest caves in Thailand — even for divers with deep experience.
Police said they believe 12 members of the team — ranging in age from 11 to 16 — and their coach, 25, crawled into the cave through a narrow 15-meter long channel, CNN reported. Officials said rising flood waters blocked the team’s path, leaving the group trapped in the cave, according to CNN.
The search was launched after a park officer saw the boys’ backpacks, bicycles and soccer cleats abandoned outside the cave — even though the structure was off limits at the time, according to CNN.
“We are still optimistic they are all alive,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told the Bangkok Post on Tuesday. “Even though they may not have anything to eat, they should have water to drink.”
In addition to the rushing waters, which rose high enough to block entrances to various chambers, rescue efforts have been hindered by the darkness of the caves and the low level of Oxygen throughout — Kamolchai Kotcha, a member of Thailand’s national parks authority, told CNN.
Chiang Rai Deputy Governor Passakorn Bunyalak remained optimistic on Monday, according to the New York Times.
“The kids are athletes, and they have skills,” he told reporters. “They are alert all the time. And they are always active. They will try to survive by continuing to move.”
Officials have said they are hopeful the boys are alive, according to the AP, adding that, in the past, tourists trapped in the caves by floods have been rescued after the waters receded.
Noppadon Kanthawong’s 13-year-old son, Songpol, decided to skip the trip, the AP reported. The boy held back tears as he spoke of his teammates.
“We are all close friends,” Songpol told the AP. “I want to see my friends soon.”