Rescuers in Thailand are today desperately drilling more than 100 shafts through mountain rock to reach 12 trapped young footballers.
The last-ditch rescue effort is set to take place in the following ‘one or two days’ as monsoon rains approach, which would make the cave impassable.
Elite navy divers are on anxious standby to rescue the team who have been trapped in a cave for 14 days.
The boys and their 25-year-old coach are not ready to be extracted, but authorities are likely to launch a risky rescue attempt in coming days if rain begins catastrophically flooding the caves.
Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said the boys were learning to dive but were not strong enough to undertake to long journey through narrow, underwater passages.
Navigating the cave system takes an experienced diver more than five hours and the boys were not back at full strength after suffering exhaustion and starvation before rescuers found them.
Speaking outside the Tham Luang caves in northern Thailand, the governor ruled out a rescue attempt overnight but indicated the situation could change in days to come.
‘There is no chance the boys will come out today. It is not suitable, they still cannot dive,’ he said at a long-awaited press conference after midnight on Saturday local time.
‘The children are learning how to dive. We’d like minimum risk, but we can’t wait until it rains heavily and worsens the situation.
‘If that happens, we’ll need to reassess. The key thing is the kids’ readiness to dive. If it rains, and the situation is not good, we will try to bring the boys out.’
Officials have long feared the coming torrential rain would catastrophically flood the cave system in Chiang Rai and make rescue impossible.
Should the rains further flood the cave, as predicted, the team could be trapped in the cave for more than four months until waters recede,
However, Governor Narongsak appeared unwilling to let the 12 boys and their coach be stuck for that long, as he laughed when asked if they would be left inside.
He said rescuers ‘need to make the plan that is the best plan’ and were assessing options, they will then test the plan to make sure it will work with a low enough risk.
‘If the risk is minimal, we will try. We are afraid of the weather and the oxygen in the cave. We have to try to set the plan and find which plan is the best,’ he said.
But he appeared to rule out tunneling through the rock to reach them in favour of the boys swimming out in dive gear or being pushed through the tunnel by divers.
‘The boys entered through the front of the cave, they will come out through the front,’ he said.
Governor Narongsak said the boys were still healthy and have practised wearing diving masks and breathing in preparation for the diving possibility.
When asked if he felt positively about the situation, he replied: ‘The world is perfect’.
‘I’m worried about everyone who participates in the rescue operation,’ he added.
Officials have been planning to fit the boys with full-face oxygen masks and extract them two at a time with navy chaperones.