The relief from the discovery of a youth soccer team found alive in a flooded cave in Thailand has been tempered by the reality that the group may stay trapped for several more months, a member of the rescue team told TODAY on Tuesday.
The 12 missing members of a Thai soccer team and their coach were found alive Monday deep inside a cave system that kept them trapped for 10 days.
The boys were “very skinny” and experienced some atrophy in their legs, but they were responsive and mentally alert, said Ben Reymenants, a Dutch cave diver who has been part of an international rescue team helping Thai Navy SEALs.
But thunderstorms forecast in the area could bring rain that would flood the cave system, “making the rescue impossible” and leaving the entire team trapped inside for “up to three to four months,” Reymenants predicted.
Two Thai Navy doctors have volunteered to stay inside the cave with the team if that should happen, said Reymenants, owner of a diving company in Phuket, Thailand.
The nation is in the middle of the rainy season, and rescue efforts have continuously been thwarted by rising floodwater inside the complex underground cave network.
“It’s one of the longest cave systems in Thailand. It’s about 10 km (6.2 miles) long,” Reymenants said. “They’re exactly stuck in the middle of this system, meaning that yes, it’s a huge way to make it through, especially while swimming.”
But because most of the children, whose ages range from 11 to 16, can’t swim, the easiest rescue option would be to “keep pumping water out of the cave.”
Reymenants said cave conditions recently improved after currents calmed and the water cleared up.
“When we first arrived it was like swimming in coffee, and huge outflow,” he said.
The team members and their 25-year-old coach disappeared on June 23 following a soccer practice.