Rescuers still can't get the Thai soccer team out of the cave they have been trapped in for 12 days — here's how long humans can survive in extreme conditions

  • On June 23, 12 boys and their soccer coach disappeared while hiking in Northern Thailand, eventually becoming trapped in a cave.
  • They were found alive on July 2.
  • People can go for a limited time without food or water, but the temperature around them can have an effect on their chances of survival.
  • The team has not yet been rescued – the search-and-rescue experts want to give them medical treatment and try to drain the flooded cave chambers before getting them out.

Nine days after they went missing, rescue teams found the 12 boys and soccer coach that got trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system in Thailand on Monday, July 2.

When they were found, all 13 were alive.

“Thai Navy seals have found all 13 with signs of life,” Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters. But the boys are still trapped in the cave, and no one knows when it will be possible to get them out.

The boys and coach told the world via video recently that they are healthy, but medical officials say they are still not well enough to be moved.

They are now waiting with members of the rescue expedition while others work to drain rising waters and open up passageways. The rescue teams have been able to bring food, fresh water, and medical personnel to the cave chamber where the boys are located.

The fact that the group has survived so far shows the extent to which people can endure extreme conditions.

Thai soccer team cave rescueLinh Pham/Getty ImagesBritish cave-divers John Volanthen walks out from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in full kit without any response to reporter’s questions on June 28, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

How long people can survive without food, water, and in extreme conditions

The team now has access to food, water, and aluminium blankets, so their immediate needs are being tended to.

But several boys are reportedly suffering from malnutrition after going without food for 10 days. Their backpacks were found outside with their bicycles and soccer gear, so it’s unlikely they had much with them inside.

For people trapped in the wild in general, dehydration is a quick killer – people generally can’t go longer than a few days without water. Depending on the conditions, someone might be able to survive for up to a week if it’s not too hot and they’re in the shade. But most people would have a hard time surviving longer than 100 hours or so.

Presumably, the team drank the rainwater that’s flooding the caves. This carries risks as well. If they were to pick up an infection from the water that caused diarrhoea, that could kill them faster – but it was likely the only option.

Food is another story – experts believe that healthy adults can survive four to six weeks without eating before starving to death. But each individual is different: People with more body fat who are in temperate conditions and have adequate hydration could potentially survive longer. When rescuers were still searching for the boys, the Chiang Rai governor told reporters they thought most people could survive 3o days without food.

But young boys might not have the same energy reserves as adults. Luckily, the boys have now been brought energy gels, pork, sticky rice, milk, and more to help them build up their strength.

Finally, temperature can be a major concern in situations like these. It’s likely quite cool inside the cave system, and the flooding could make it hard for the team to stay dry. They also probably have not been able to move much to stay warm, which could make the cold even more dangerous. The aluminium blankets they now have will help keep them warm, however.

Thailand cave rescue(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)Flood water fills the entrance to a cave hindering the search effort for 12 boys and their soccer coach who went missing in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand.

Next steps in the rescue

The 25-year-old coach and the 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, were reportedly known to explore the region. Their bicycles were discovered outside the caves on June 23, which led search-and-rescue experts to believe they’d been trapped in the caves due to flooding triggered by heavy rainfall. Divers from Thai Navy SEAL units and rescue experts from the US, UK, China, and Australia coordinated to search the cave system, which led them to find the team.

Now they need to try to stabilise the team before extracting them. Luckily, the team now has supplies to last at least two weeks.

In a Facebook video posted by the Thai Navy after the team was discovered, you can see that the boys appear to be ok, sitting in a group above the water in a cave chamber.

“We are coming, it’s OK, many people are coming,” one member of the search team tells the boys.

The biggest concern in the ongoing rescue efforts is that water is unfortunately still rising. Navy SEALS and rescue officials have been trying to pump water out of various chambers throughout the cave system. But it’s still impossible to get from the chamber where the boys are to the outside world without SCUBA gear, and continued rainfall is offsetting the pumping process.

The hope has been that rescuers will be able to drain enough water for the teams to extract the boys without putting them in dive gear. Diving through caves is extremely dangerous for novices, especially people in a weakened state.

However, rain is expected to intensify this weekend, which could worsen the floods. Because of that, rescuers have started trying to teach the boys to use diving gear.

The rainy season in Thailand will continue for months.

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