Teams of rescue personal recently entered the cave in northern Thailand, initiating a rescue mission which could have the first survivors out by as early as 21:00 (16:00 GMT) this evening on Sunday. The operation is expected to take days, but efforts may be accelerated with the help of Elon Musk's specially engineered mini kid-sized sub. But until another opportunity presents itself, rescuers are capitalizing on a temporary improvement in the weather, an opportunity which may not come again for weeks or months.
The team of soccer players became stranded when exploring a cave in northern Thailand on July 23. Monsoon rains quickly filled in the passages of the cave, cutting off the entrance from which they came. As the water started to gush in the cave, the group fled deeper into the warren of caverns in an attempt to find high ground.
After days of searching, rescuers finally located the team on July 2nd, deep inside the Tham Luang caves, a system which stretches on for 10 kilometers. Experts first believed the best course of action was to wait until the rains clear before attempting a rescue mission. However, rising water and decreasing oxygen levels are forcing rescuers to act immediately.
Experts warned against teaching the kids how to dive and escape, but with improved weather, now may be their only chance to get out. The worry is triggering a panic attack, a dangerous and potentially fatal scenario which could leave a person trapped or worse in the narrow passages through the cave. However, others suggest the teams' high moral and youthfulness could be beneficial to their underwater escape.
Perhaps the children, still naive to the danger they are really in, may see the journey more as an adventure rather than a life or death situation. Nevertheless, rescuers are acting now while the weather is still fair. Another opportunity like this may not come for weeks, if not months.
No Options Left and Time Has Run Out - Rescuing a Soccer Team in a Thai Cave
Despite discovering the team six days ago, extracting the team up until now has proven impossible. The warrens in the cavern are narrow and are flooded with water. It is a long and arduous journey, difficult for even the most experienced of divers. The difficulty of the operation was highlighted when a diver lost his life transporting air tanks when he himself ran out of oxygen.
It is impossible to see through the murky water, and the water can travel quite fast in some regions. According to rescuers on site, the kids will have to swim at times up to 20 minutes underwater before reaching air pockets along the way. It is a difficult journey, and time is running out.
Oxygen levels have already dropped to 15%, and it is a level experts warn could progress into hypoxia - a condition which results in altitude sickness. Inside the cave, hypoxia would almost certainly prove fatal. Rescuers are in a race against time to get the team out while they are strong enough, physically and mentally. Any longer and it may be too late.
Why it is Taking So Long to Rescue the Stranded Team
Bad weather is mostly to blame for the delay in rescue operations. Rain continues to pour, only improving slightly today.
There were a few other plans to rescue the team, including digging them out, extending a long tube through the cavern, or building a mini-sub designed to extract two kids at a time.
Time is of the essence, and so drilling into the mountain will be nearly impossible in the timescale given. The challenge would be more difficult than the rescue operation of 33 miners who were trapped for 69 days inside a mine. The miners were also about 700 meters underground. It was not long before they were found, but the conditions rescuers were met with prevented any chance of a quick extraction.
Rescuing the Chilean miners was a timely operation. For their case, digging the crew out was the only option. It took days for rescue personnel to assemble a drilling operation to extract all 33 miners.
It took 69 days to extract the miners. And that was in favorable conditions.
The cave system in which the soccer team is trapped in is located beneath a mountain surrounded by raging rivers and uneven ground. The team is much deeper than the miners were, and surrounded by far worse terrain.
Digging the team out would require heavy duty equipment, and subsequently, a new road to support the machines. The timescale in which rescuers must extract the team is far too short for drilling or digging to be of any use.
However, Elon Musk and a team of engineers have assembled to devise an alternative plan to assist rescue efforts.
Where is Elon Musk now
A few days ago, Musk dispatched a team of engineers to evaluate the situation. Collectively, the team decided on investigating two plans; one, to build an inflatable tube lined with Kevlar to extend through the lengths of the cave, then have the team crawl through it. And two, building a mini kid-sized sub built from spare space parts to extract two kids at a time.
At any rate, the rescue is already underway while weather prevails. It is a dangerous task and only four children will be extracted in the first mission. The operation is expected to take days, and efforts could be thwarted again if the weather picks up.
Elon Musk and his team of engineers will continue to develop their mini-sub to perhaps speed up the rescue operation. Until then, rescuers will be focused on teaching the kids how to dive and escape through the narrow passageways. There is a long journey ahead, but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel.