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Thai schoolboys not ready for underwater cave escape

They say they have not learned adequate diving skills in the few days since searchers reached the area where they are sheltering.

Authorities in Thailand have said they will not immediately attempt an underwater evacuation of 12 schoolboys who have been trapped in a cave for almost two weeks.

The officials say the youngsters have not learned adequate diving skills in the short time since searchers reached the area where they are sheltering.

However, the official in immediate charge of the operation, Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, indicated at a news conference that if heavy rains started and appeared to be causing flooded areas in the cave to rise again, divers would try to take the boys out right away.

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(PA Graphics)

Thai officials had been suggesting in public statements that a quick underwater evacuation of the boys and their football coach was needed because of the possibility that access to the cave could soon close again due to seasonal monsoon rains expected this weekend.

Earlier efforts to pump out water from the cave have been set back every time there has been a heavy rain.

Cave rescue specialists have cautioned against that approach except as a last resort, because of the dangers posed by inexperienced people using diving gear.

The path out is considered especially complicated because of twists and turns in some narrow flooded passages.

The suggestion that the trapped team might have to wait months inside until a safe way out in available — as was the case in 2010 with Chilean miners trapped underground — has been met with little enthusiasm.

The authorities continue to pursue a third option, which is finding a shaft or drilling into the mountain in which the cave is located to find a sort of back door entrance.

The boys, 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach went exploring in the cave after a soccer game on June 23.

Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.

The only way to reach them was by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents.

Asked at his midnight news conference about taking the boys out underwater, the governor replied, “Not today because they cannot dive at this time”.

Mr Narongsak said the boys were still healthy and have practised wearing diving masks and breathing in preparation for the diving possibility.

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The body of Saman Gunan is carried during a repatriation and religious rites ceremony (AP Photo)

The rescue effort suffered a disheartening setback on Friday with the death of a former Thai navy Seal diving in the flooded passageways to deliver supplies, as authorities raced against worsening weather and lessening oxygen.

The death of former Thai navy Seal Saman Gunan underscored the risks of making the underwater journey.

The diver, the first fatality of the rescue effort, was working in a volunteer capacity and died on a mission to place oxygen canisters along the route to where the boys and others are sheltered, officials said.

The strategically placed canisters allow divers to stay underwater longer during the five-hour trip to reach the stranded team.

British divers Rick Stanton, a fireman in his fifties from Coventry, and John Volanthen, an IT consultant based in Bristol in his forties, were the first to reach the group.

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