As you may have heard, there are currently twelve members of a junior soccer team and their coach trapped deep within a cave system in Thailand. Miraculously they were found, but that’s not the end of the story – now rescuers need to get them out.

That’s not an easy proposition. They’re on a small, muddy island about four kilometres deep in the Tham Luang cave, which is currently flooded thanks to monsoonal rains. Expert cave divers sent to find the boys took about six hours to actually get to their position, through a series of narrow, twisting passageways. So it’s not exactly a walk in the park to get them out.

The Thai military are sending food and provisions through to the trapped team while they contemplate what to do next. Cave diving experts – who, presumably, basically never get contacted by the media to talk about anything – are out in full force providing commentary on what options are available to rescuers.

Here’s what has been floated thus far:

Just wait for the water to go down

The boys can’t swim, and any attempt at extraction through the water would be perilous. It’s feasible that everyone can just wait for the flooding to recede, and then the trapped team can just stroll on out the way they came in.

Rescuers are currently pumping large volumes of water out of the cave in an attempt to hurry the process along, but it’s basically unknown to what degree it is helping.

The problem with this strategy is that it’s monsoon season, heavy rains are expected, and it could be months before the water levels are back down to the level they were at when the boys entered the cave. Thai Navy SEALs are reportedly sending through up to four months worth of provisions, but can you imagine sitting on a muddy island for that long? I can’t imagine doing it for one hour before going mad.

Quite frankly, you can only play 20 Questions so many times.

Teach the boys to dive

This is the plan that basically sounds like a movie. The idea is to send experienced cave divers in to teach the boys how to dive themselves. Then they’d all shimmy their way out – perfect! Cue the swelling orchestral music.

Though this was talked about quite heavily when the boys were first found, it’s seeming less and less likely. Cave diving is a notoriously difficult (and frightening!) activity usually only indulged by insane thrill-seekers, and the prospect of teaching a group of kids – none of whom can currently swim – how to do it seems unlikely.

It doesn’t help that the cave system itself features a number of twists, turns and incredibly narrow passageways. Speaking to Sky News, cave diver Ben Raymenants (who is part of the rescue effort) outlined the difficulty:

This is one of the more extreme cave dives that I have done. It is very far, and very complex. There is current. The visibility can be zero at times. So getting boys through there one by one, and the risk that they will panic is there. They can’t even swim. This has been done before with pulling people out of wrecks alive. So it is not impossible, but the issue is the restrictions – just one person can fit through. So guiding a boy through in front of you could be quite challenging, especially if the rain picks up and there’s a strong flow and the visibility reduces to zero. When it starts raining the flow is so hard you can barely swim against it.

It took us four hours just to swim to the point where we had to tie off the lines. It is really long swim. So it is really hard to give an opinion on what is the best solution.

So it’s a possibility, but a distant and difficult one. It leads onto the next option…

Ferry the boys out

This is similar, but instead of teaching the boys to dive, they’ll be fitted with wetsuits and full-face oxygen masks and passed along a human chain until they’re out of the cave. It wouldn’t require them to learn how to dive, though it would be a huge logistical effort requiring a number of expert divers.

Rescuers are also attempting to secure more full-face diving masks, which are considered far more secure than normal breathing apparatuses. Much more manageable for a bunch of kids who can’t swim, in other words.

So How Are They Going To Rescue The Boys From That Cave?
Photo: Pongmanat Tasiri/EPA

But this strategy also runs into problems. It’s very slow, for one, with the boys being passed along a daisy-chain of rescuers one-by-one. And – as I’ve mentioned before – it’s a treacherous passage, with some points reportedly so narrow that some of the rescuers had to literally remove their breathing tanks to pass through.

Drill into the cave

Though this might seem like an obvious solution, it’s not really feasible. Rescuers have drilled holes in the mountain as part of their effort to drain water from the caves, but an actual rescue effort is much, much more complicated.

They’d have to undertake a survey to know the layout of the caves with perfect clarity before you made an effort to drill, and new roads would have to built to bring heavy equipment up to the necessary point of the mountain. Not to mention the fact that drilling into a cave where thirteen people are currently huddled on a small island is, you know, kinda dangerous!

Bonus option: some kind of tunnel?

Because this is an international news story of great interest, everyone is suddenly an expert on cave extraction and rescue. This one comes courtesy of a mate of mine, who thinks that rescuers should send some kind of tunnel (?) through to the trapped team which they could then be pulled through (?)

So How Are They Going To Rescue The Boys From That Cave?

He hasn’t provided any explanation as to where one would obtain a tunnel like this, or how it could possibly navigate the aforementioned tight turns and narrow passageways. But maybe the rescue team could look into it. Seems plausible.

Image: Supplied