Thai locals help in cave rescue effort

By AAP Newswire

At a hilltop village on Doi Nang Non mountain, the unsung heroes of the Thai cave rescue are beginning another day of dangerous work.

53-year-old Thawatchai springs into action and starts clapping his hands to get his young charges ready.

Many of them, both men and women, are not much older than the boys trapped in the cave.

Every day, up to 60 volunteers from different villages try to stop water leaking into the caves, where the remaining four boys and their coach are trapped.

But the danger of their work became apparent on Monday when Thawatchai, who travelled from a Bangkok rescue team to support the work, fell eight metres while laying water pipes near the mountain top and injured his ribs.

"No, I don't want to see a doctor," he tells AAP as he grabs his left side. "There is a lot of water (to move) today."

Thawatchi's group, and many more based in clusters of hillside villages, are climbing up steep jungle slopes to plug holes and lay pipes to divert heavy water flows into the cave.

The majority of the volunteers are tribe people who know the terrain well.

"They can tell us where the holes are and where we can divert the water," says Captain Pacharapon Sukpang, who for the past seven days has been helping co-ordinate the little-publicised efforts.

"The important thing is to stop the water getting into the cave, so water levels remain low."

Capt Prachaporn says the Navy SEALs and expert hydrologists inside the cave contacted him to see if the volunteers can stem the flow of water into the cave system.

"When they call they are in the cave and the water is too high," he says. "They want the volunteers to locate where the water is coming in from and stop it."

The leader of the rescue operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, has stressed the importance of plugging the holes to keep cave water levels down.

Local village leader Niwag Thamrongtatsanai says everyone in his community is trying to help.

"We had some teenagers, some the same age as the boys in the cave, try to volunteer," he says. "But we told them 'no, you are too young' and this is dangerous."

The hillside village clusters, known as tambons, are also providing free coffee, power drinks and snacks to the rescue teams. The money comes out of their own pockets.

"We have to do something to help the rescue. The boys are young, they were pursuing adventure. We should not judge them," says Niwag.

When asked how he felt when the first boys were rescued, Thawatchi, a stocky tattooed man, says nothing and makes a gesture of a tear flowing down his check. "My job is not big. But I will do any small thing I can to help."