Divers step up search for boys trapped in Thai cave for a week

Rescuers believe the boys have a chance of surviving and may have access to fresh water

Divers step up search for boys trapped in Thai cave for a week

Royal Thai Navy SEALs take part in rescue operation for 12 Thai teenagers and their football coach in northern Thailand's Chiang Rai Province. Picture by: Xinhua/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Divers are searching the murky waters of a cave in Thailand as the rescue operation steps up to find 12 young boys and their football coach, who have been trapped for a week.

Heavy rain has hampered the operation at the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province, causing flooding which has stopped rescuers getting through chambers to get deeper into the cave.

However, on Saturday the rain eased and divers from the Thai navy's elite SEAL unit were able to make progress through the murky waters filling passages of the six-mile underground maze.

Deputy Police Chief Wirachai Songmetta said the search party has not yet been unable to reach the underground chamber where the boys may be.

Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said: "The situation is better today than yesterday and the day before.

"Water has receded considerably and we are pumping out water in all chambers (near the entrance)."

Apart from bicycles and football boots left near the cave's entrance, and hand prints seen on the walls, the searchers have found no trace of the boys, aged between 11 and 16, or their 25-year-old assistant coach.

But rescuers believe they have a chance of surviving and may have access to fresh water inside the cave, either dripping through rocks or rushing in through the entrance.

However, run-off water from nearby farms could carry dangerous chemicals and bacteria.

Anmar Mirza, coordinator of the US National Cave Rescue Commission, said: "If they drink the water in the caves and it makes them sick it could hasten the problem that they are in, but if they don't drink it then they are also in trouble."

On Friday, survival packages containing food, medicine and torches were dropped through a shaft in the mountainside, which has now been widened to allow rescuers to be lowered into it.

Relatives have been keeping vigil outside the cave, with religious groups converging to help families cope.

Kampon Paree (39) an uncle of three of the missing boys, said: "I am still hopeful and hope the children will come out safely."

Medical teams have been practising drills to treat survivors and airlift them from a makeshift helipad.

Australian police and military have joined other international teams in the rescue mission.