Camping out 24/7 for return of imperiled soccer team trapped in Thailand cave: Reporter's notebook

Time, everyone knows, is running out on them.

July 06, 2018, 12:11 PM

CHIANG RAI, Thailand -- Thousands of rescue workers, police, soldiers, electrical engineers, volunteers and journalists are camped out here in the muddy terrain of this mountainous Thailand province. It is where 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach entered the Tham Luang cave complex that now has them trapped.

An incredible collective effort is on display in a makeshift village while authorities offer emotional support for the parents and families who are in tents desperately waiting for their boys to come out of the cave after nearly two weeks.

It is hot and humid: -- 84 degrees with 79 percent humidity -- but a sense of hope prevails amid good spirits. I met a masseuse who said she wants to donate her skills to help hardworking rescuers relax.

PHOTO: Local rescue team arrive in a staging area in the moutain of Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province searching for new openings to Tham Luang cave during rescue operation, June 28, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Local rescue team arrive in a staging area in the moutain of Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province searching for new openings to Tham Luang cave during rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach, June 28, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images

An on-duty police officer who stopped journalists from trying to talk to the boys’ parents ushered our team to a tent nearby, handing out stuffed hot buns. It turns out he donated those 6,000 buns out of his own pocket.

Morale is still high Friday despite the death of a former Thai navy SEAL officer who lost consciousness overnight while SCUBA diving on his way back from delivering air tanks to a site near the boys.

Our translator explains the upbeat mood:

“Thai people are not afraid of deaths. Even at funerals we listen to music and try to be happy,” probably because Thai people are predominantly Buddhist, she says.

PHOTO: An honor guard carries the coffin of Samarn Poonan, 38, a former member of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit who died working to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped inside a flooded cave, at Chiang Rai airport, Thailand, July 6, 2018.
An honor guard carries the coffin of Samarn Poonan, 38, a former member of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit who died working to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped inside a flooded cave, at Chiang Rai airport, Thailand, July 6, 2018.
Reuters

The most heartbreaking part of covering this story is to imagine what it would be like as a parent in waiting. They are glued to television screens in hopes of hearing news about any promising developments in the rescue operation.

Thai officials have been briefing the media once every morning at unspecified times and Thai navy SEALs have been posting videos and pictures of the boys and what’s going on inside the cave.

PHOTO: Volunteers prepare chicken rice for rescuers & family members at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, July 05, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Volunteers prepare chicken rice for rescuers & family members at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, July 05, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Linh Pham/Getty Images

But that is about all we get throughout the day, leaving our appetites healthy for more information about the rescue operation.

For now, though, the most realistic option is to try to pump out as much water as possible to lower the water levels so the boys would at least float out of the cave fully breathing, instead of learning how to dive or swim.

PHOTO: A U.S. military rescue team is briefed by the Thai Navy SEALs at the staging area outside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand Thursday, June 28, 2018.
A U.S. military rescue team is briefed by the Thai Navy SEALs at the staging area outside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand Thursday, June 28, 2018. A U.S. military team and British cave experts have joined the rescue effort in northern Thailand for 12 boys and their soccer coach stranded since Saturday inside a cave being flooded by near-constant rains.
Tassanee Vejpongsa/AP

Time, everyone knows, is running out. Heavy rain is expected this weekend, which means the boys must be rescued from the cave within a day or two.

Officials have not addressed a plan B and no one here at the site is talking about the what-ifs, although many must be wondering in quiet moments, what if.

PHOTO: Australian divers walk through the camps outside the cave, July 6, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Australian divers walk through the camps outside the cave, July 6, 2018, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images
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