Oxygen in the Thai cave where a boys soccer team has been trapped is plummeting to dangerously low levels, authorities said Friday.
Oxygen underground in the Tham Luang cave complex registered at just 15 percent, a level that could pose a risk of hypoxia, Thai navy SEAL chief Rear Adm. Aphakorn Yoo-kongkaew told CNN. The condition occurs when the body doesn’t have enough of the life-sustaining element — and can be fatal.
Authorities initially believed the 12 boys and their coach could remain in the flooded cave for as long as four months as logistics behind the complicated rescue mission were worked out.
Rescuers have been working to pump water out of the cave so that the team and coach could scuba-dive out ahead of heavy rainfall this weekend that will cause floodwaters to rise.
But now their situation is much more dire.
“We can no longer wait for all conditions [to be ready] because of the oppressive situation,” Aphakorn said. “We originally thought the young boys could stay safe inside the cave for quite a long time but circumstances have changed. We have limited amount of time.”
He didn’t speculate how long the group could survive with the current oxygen levels but said getting them more air is a top priority.
The increased urgency comes hours after the death of Saman Kunan, a former Thai navy SEAL who was volunteering on the rescue mission. Kunan ran out of his own air while placing oxygen tanks throughout the cave.
The team — boys ages 11 to 16, along with their 25-year-old coach — has been stuck 2.5 miles from the entrance of the labyrinthine cave system for nearly two weeks.
Meanwhile, another volunteer, Ivan Karadzic, said the group’s rescue could come as soon as “today or tomorrow,” according to SkyNews.
Karadzic said rescuing the group is more challenging because children are involved.
“Most cave divers will have training to rescue other cave divers,” he explained. “But rescuing kids out of a cave — that is new to most of us.”
But the cave diver from Denmark said working to rescuers’ advantage is the cave’s depth.
“The cave is very shallow. It’s 5, 7 meters [16 to 23 feet], so you can dive for a long time,” Karadzic said. “The deeper you dive, the faster you consume the gas. But obviously the situation makes it incredibly challenging.”
Floodwaters underground have been slowly receding.
“When I was in there yesterday, it was going down about a centimeter or two [about ¾ of an inch] per hour,” he said.
Rescue workers continue their efforts to free soccer team in Thailand
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