Thai cave rescue: Plan A, B or C?

The AM Show 05/07/2018

Thai authorities have a tough decision to make, and perhaps only hours to make it.

Twelve children and their 25-year-old football coach are stuck 4km inside a mountain in the north of the country.

With the monsoon season getting under way, if they're not rescued in the next few days they may have to spend the next four months in the claustrophobic cavern, 1km underground.

CNN's Jonathan Miller was at the Chile mining accident in 2010, when 33 miners were successfully rescued after a cave-in. He's on the scene in Thailand, and told The AM Show this rescue will be much more difficult and "could go either way".

"They're being fed, they're safe for now, but everybody wants them out. This window is closing - it will not be long before the really heavy rain starts again. Once that starts, they're stuck."

He says there are three equally difficult options to choose from.

Plan A: Come back out the way they went in

"If they're going to get them out the way they came in - through these cave passageways - they're going to have to do it now," said Mr Miller.

"It's fraught with danger. They're a kilometre underground, about five kilometres in. The passageways, many of them are submerged. The children have never scuba-dived before. Some of them don't even know how to swim. The water has zero visibility and there are strong currents coming through these passageways. It's very difficult."

Heavy rain arrived right after the group entered the cave, filling up pockets they'll have to swim through. Some of the passages are so tight, they'll have to remove scuba gear to squeeze through.

More rain is expected at the weekend, and will make it virtually impossible to exit the way they went in.

Plan B: Dig through from the top

"Drill down through fissures, chimneys, crevices, through the mountain from above and go into the roofs of the chambers where the children are and maybe winch them out that way," said Mr Miller.

"Again, fraught with danger and nobody is too sure if there are fissures going into the mountain. They've explored some of them, but none of them have led into one of the chambers nearby. They'd have to get drilling equipment up there - it's a mountain, it's a big mountain."

And once the monsoon hits, going in from the top will also become impossible. Which leaves authorities with perhaps little choice but plan C.

Plan C: Wait out the monsoon and try again in four months

"Plan C is the grimmest prospect of all, but it is possibly the safest - keeping them in the cave for the next four months while the monsoon rages."

This will require a constant supply of food and water. The water in the cave isn't safe to drink, as nearby rice paddy fields will be leeching pesticides into it.

"They've been surviving for the nine days - they were completely on their own - by dripping water from the cave roof," said Mr Miller.

What's likely to happen

Thai authorities appear to be favouring plan A - get them out the way they came back in - before the monsoon hits, but they've reportedly gathered four months' worth of food and water just in case.

"As rain is forecast in the next few days, the evacuation must speed up," said Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda. "Diving gear will be used. If the water rises, the task will be difficult. We must bring the kids out before then."

A rescue team is currently based about 700m into the cave. Most of the rest of it between there and the boys is flooded.

Watch the full interview above.

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