TWELVE missing teenagers and their football coach have been found alive after getting stuck in a Thai cave after football practice.
The group crawled into the Tham Luang Nang Non cave on June 23 – but how long before the rescue can begin?
Thai Royal Navy Rescuers prepare to search the cave for the missing footballers and their coach
What do we know so far?
The group of 12 boys and their 25-year-old football coach were discovered on Monday, July 2, 2018, as they huddled on a ledge in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave.
The youngsters are believed to be aged between 11 and 16, and the group became trapped in the cave by flood waters shortly after entering on June 23.
They were said to be in a stable condition following an assessment by medical professionals who visited the site.
The group have been issued with energy gels and paracetamol to sustain them while they remain trapped.
Thailand’s army claims the group could remain trapped for up to four months as the country struggles with severe flooding.
Reports suggest they will be trained by specialist divers in a bid to enable them to escape sooner, otherwise they face being trapped in the maze of tunnels for weeks.
Thai Royal Navy The boys, aged between 11 and 16, were last seen on Saturday after crawling into the cave
When will the children be rescued?
Thai navy SEAL divers and rescue workers from other countries searched round-the-clock for nine days before managing to make contact with the group.
Despite locating them, Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn cautioned that the group were not out of danger just yet, adding: “We found them safe. But the operation isn’t over.”
British divers John Volanthen, Robert Harper and Richard Stanton were flown in to help last week.
The trio, from Derbyshire Cave Rescue, are global experts in exploring underground systems.
Volanthen and Stanton were first to reach the boys, having had strong experience in cave rescues, according to Bill Whitehouse, of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC).
The children are being taught how to dive and have been given masks to practice breathing.
Chiang Rai provincial Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn insisted the boys and their coach would be rescued in stages – depending on their health.
Experts say the kids would have to been taken out one-by-one – because if one ran into difficulty this would cause a blockage and risk the lives of the kids behind him.
It is not known when the boys will be ready to attempt leaving the caves.
The first images of the Thai elite Navy diver have emerged following his death
Has anyone died?
An elite Navy SEAL rescue diver died on July 5, 2018, during an attempt to save the trapped group.
The Thai hero, named as Saman Kunan passed away after suffering a lack of oxygen as he attempted to swim back through the underground labyrinth after taking essential supplies to the school kids and their football coach.
Local reports claim he died as he lay oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, according to comments made by a SEAL commander.
Google Maps The 12 boys and their football coach have disappeared in the Mae Sai district of Northern Thailand
How many children were trapped?
Twelve teenagers aged 11 to 16 were trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave after failing to return from football practice.
A mother reported her son never returned from football practice that day, sparking a huge search operation.
A park officer found 11 bikes left by the entrance to the cave with backpacks, football shoes and other sports equipment left in their baskets, according to the Bangkok Post.
Witnesses are said to have spotted the group crawling inside the cave, which can flood severely during Thailand’s rainy season, which runs from June to October.
Local reports suggested the youngsters could have entered to perform an initiation involving scrawling their names on a wall at the end of the tunnel.
Are the children safe?
The schoolboys have been found safe with their football coach.
But the group are not out of peril as rescuers still need to get them out.
Divers are now securing a rope line and placing oxygen tanks along the narrow passageway that will lead the boys out.
Brit cave explorer Vern Unsworth, who has been advising the rescue operation, believes that we will know whether the stricken kids will survive in the next 24 hours.
The boys will be taught how to swim and scuba dive as they prepare to take on the “unbelievably dangerous” route of paddling 1.2miles through the tunnel’s murky waters – a perilous journey which would take four hours.
But officials now believe there could be a “chimney hole” leading to the surface after the group heard dogs barking, roosters crowing and kids playing despite being half a mile underground.
Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is in charge of the rescue operation, said 30 teams are scouring the mountainside for the air hole.
He says this secret passage would help explain why the group have been able to breath for so long.
The chimney hole would allow a crack team of rescuers to drill down to the brave boys instead of having to teach them how to swim and dive through the “extremely dangerous” cave network.
Speaking with the BBC, Mr Unsworth, who is based in Chiang Ra, said that heavy rainfall has caused the water levels within the cave to rise further.
He said: “The main thing is to try to get the children to safety. We have to keep hoping.
“The water levels are rising, we had a lot of rain over night.
“I think we’ll know in the next 24 hours (whether they’ll survive).
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed – everybody needs to pray and hope for a good outcome.”