Despite the world rejoicing at the survival and discovery of the Thai youth soccer team within Tham Luang Nang Non Cave after a nerve-wracking nine day search, the emergency still has yet to be resolved.
The death of a Thai rescue diver today has evidently caused the bubble of optimism surrounding the situation to burst.
Originally, the rescue operation thought it might be possible to wait out the floodwaters and let them recede. A steady supply of food and supplies could help sustain the 12 boys and their coach until they could be properly evacuated. Now, it appears that things are far more dire. Oxygen levels in the boys’ safe zone have dropped from a habitable 21% to just 15%, leaving all survivors at risk of hypoxia.
Saman Kunan, a rescuer and former Thai Navy Seal, perished on his way back from delivering oxygen tanks to the kids. The 38-year-old and highly experienced diver ran out of oxygen, passed out, and drowned on the nearly five hour dive back through the dark and treacherous tunnels of the cave. Kunan has been hailed a hero for his actions.
According to scientists, the presence of hundreds of rescue workers may actually have depleted the supply of oxygen in the cave at a much faster rate. Everyone is continuing to try and find the best possible strategy for extraction.
Rear Admiral Aphakorn Yoo-kongkaew, Thailand’s Navy SEAL chief, stated: “We can no longer wait for all conditions because of the oppressive situation.”
Hundreds of water pumps are being used to drain the cave waters to a low enough level for the boys to walk out with over 130 million liters already having been siphoned out. Another team is searching for a vent or opening that might be a suitable spot for drilling an exit. Yet another group has sent divers to try and train the boys to dive out with rescuers, but their frail and hungry state as well as absence of swimming experience have made it a difficult strategy to implement.
With a forecast for heavy monsoon rains looming on the horizon, it’s too early to say whether this miracle is assured.