Thai rescue officials are apparently now facing one of the most unenviable choices imaginable: attempting a scuba rescue featuring a group of youth soccer players who (mostly) can’t even swim, or trying to keep them alive for multiple months until they can walk out under their own power.
As the crisis around the attempted Thai cave rescue of 12 youth soccer players (and their coach) intensifies, there are legitimate strategic questions about the likelihood of a survivable escape, given the dual threats of rising water in the cave and the lack of swimming experience among the players who are trapped.
The true scope of the risks facing the Thai teens was laid bare on Thursday, when a Thai diving website released the following map detailing the risks of the proposed escape path:
Seriously, that proposed dive path would make for an extraordinarily difficult escape for very experienced divers, let alone a group of teen novices, most of whom can’t swim. Just Thursday a Thai navy seal who was working to prepare an evacuation route died due to a lack of oxygen while laying oxygen canisters.
Those risks apparently inspired some Thai authorities to consider an equally drastic possible approach: Not evacuating the team for multiple months, until they can exit (relatively) safely without diving deep distances using oxygen assistance. Thailand’s rainy season typically lasts until October, so even with pumping assistant decreasing the water level, waiting until they escapes can be made without extensive diving efforts could take more than a month, and likely multiple months.
Meanwhile, even those who might have hoped for the more measured, patient approach to an evacuation may be left disappointed by the latest weather changes; forecasters are calling for heavy rains beginning July 7, which would raise the water level in the caves. That might inspire an earlier evacuation which could start anytime, given the likelihood that each player would be taken out one-by-one in an operation that could take multiple days.
“Certainly there is an expectation that if they are going to try to bring these boys out soon, or at least the first of them, this is the best time to do it because there is a bit of a window with the weather,” Australian Broadcasting Company reporter Anne Barker told the network.
Barker’s comment alludes to the notion that the players may be evacuated in stages, beginning with the most experienced, ready and healthy swimmers first, then others after they have had more time to prepare with practice dives and training. Cave diving specialists are working with the teens to teach some scuba skills in anticipation that they could make an escape attempt in the near future.
Whenever they do attempt to leave, there’s no question that the world’s eyes will be squarely on the young soccer players.