MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — Thailand’s prime minister on Friday visited a flooded cave complex where rescuers have been searching for 12 boys and their soccer coach missing for six days and urged their relatives not to give up hope.
“There has to be faith. Faith makes everything a success,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the country’s military ruler, told families waiting outside the cave. “Faith in the actions of officials. Faith in our children who are strong and vigorous. Everything will go back to normal.”
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their coach entered the sprawling Tham Luang Nang Non cave after a soccer game on Saturday afternoon, but near-constant rains since then have thwarted the search for them. Authorities have nevertheless expressed hope the group has found a dry place within the cave to wait, and that they are healthy enough to stay alive.
Muddy floodwaters reached near the entrance of the cave Friday despite days of efforts to drain the water. Rescuers kept working outside the cave, trying to find hidden shafts in the green mountainside to access the cave complex.
The mission to save the group reportedly suffered its first major mishap on Friday when at least three rescuers near the entrance apparently suffered shocks caused by jerry-rigged electrical lines fed into the caverns to power lights and pumps.
Journalists saw workers run out of the cave shouting that some rescuers had been injured and to shut off the electricity immediately.
Ambulances quickly arrived and witnesses saw three men being carried to them on stretchers. Police said their injuries were minor and the men were in stable condition.
Chiang Rai province Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, however, later said the incident was a misunderstanding, and all that had happened was that a worker had fainted from exhaustion after long hours without eating. There was no immediate explanation of the discrepancy.
The governor has come under criticism that he has mismanaged the rescue effort, leading to confusion and inefficiency.
Other crews were working to drill wells in hopes of draining the water, which could allow divers to advance into flooded passages. Despite the hard work, rescuers’ progress has been fitful at best, with no guarantee the water will soon recede with months left in Thailand’s rainy season.
Gov. Narongsak thanked people in Thailand and abroad for their support, including a U.S. military rescue team and U.K. cave divers.
“We will keep our effort up no matter how tired we are,” he said.
He said Thai navy SEAL divers had been able to work underwater Thursday but would not elaborate on their progress. The divers have oxygen tanks but still must have enough space between the water and the cave ceiling to surface for air and to ensure their safety in the muddy waters that fill rocky passages, some so tight the divers must bend their bodies to advance through them.
Above ground, four shafts have been located that might allow access to the cave and rescuers were continuing to explore those shafts Friday, Narongsak said.
The team trying to find a way to drain the water dug until 1 a.m. to a depth of 30 meters (98 feet) but did not find any wells, said Ekchawin Longpinit from the Thai Underground Water Department. About a dozen workers were drilling at the same spot Friday morning. “We will continue to drill today, and more drill equipment is being sent” to explore more spots to drill, Ekchawin said.