The pressure is mounting to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped deep inside a flooded cave in north Thailand as oxygen levels drop and Monsoon season approaches.
The danger of the mission came into focus after former Thai Navy SEAL Sgt. Saman Kunan, 38, died on Thursday after running out of air on a diving mission in the cave to deliver oxygen tanks to the trapped boys.
The boys disappeared after soccer practice almost two weeks ago and were found alive on July 2 by divers from the UK after surviving on a ledge inside the cave without food or fresh water for nine days.
The huge operation to rescue them involves dozens of Thai Navy SEALs, and experts and volunteer divers from parts of Europe and Asia, as well as Australia and the US. Billionaire inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk said Friday engineers from his SpaceX & Boring Co. were heading to Thailand to see if they could help.
Kunan’s death had changed the mood on the ground and made real for rescuers just how dangerous the mission has become.
Rescue teams have been pumping millions of liters of water from the cave in an attempt to lower water levels to the extent that the boys can simply walk out. However, more rain is forecast this weekend, putting pressure on rescuers to act soon or have to contend with even higher water levels inside the cramped chambers.
The Daily Mail reported that Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said he asked billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk to send engineers from his SpaceX and Boring Company firms to help with the rescue.
“Mr. Musk suggested bringing the boys out through a nylon tube inflated ‘like a bouncy castle’ to create an underwater tunnel,” the Mail reported.
The boys and their coach are equivalent to the length of two Empire State buildings underground, according to the Mail.
The Mail also reported U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies offered his condolences to former Thai Navy SEAL Kunan’s family following the news of his death.
“On behalf of the American people, I extend my deepest condolences to his family and commend his true bravery and selflessness in service to his country,” Davies said in a statement.
The rescue is unfolding at the same time as the 2018 FIFA World Cup is unfolding in Russia. The Mail reported FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he hoped the Wild Boars team would be rescued in time for them to watch the final match in Moscow on July 15.
“If, as we all hope, they are reunited with their families in the coming days, and their health allows them to travel, FIFA would be delighted to invite them to attend the 2018 World Cup final as our guests,” Infantino wrote in a letter to the head of the Football Association of Thailand.
“I sincerely hope that they will be able to join us at the final, which will undoubtedly be a wonderful moment of communion and celebration,” Infantino wrote.
Follow @PennyStarrDC on Twitter