MAE SAI, Thailand — The soccer coach trapped in a Thai cave with 12 boys for nearly two weeks apologized to their parents in a handwritten note released Saturday, promising to take care of the children during the rescue mission “as best as I can.”
In a letter sent through drivers, 25-year-old Ekapol Chanthawong, reassured the concerned parents, adding: “Right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents.”
Ekapol, the assistant coach of the Wild Boars, has been the subject of seething criticism for leading the boys into the predicament — and accolades for his subsequent efforts to keep them alive. Authorities say he took the boys deep into a massive Tham Luang cave complex in the northern Chiang Rai province after a game June 23. Heavy rains ensued, and the route out became flooded and impassable.
The boys also issued handwritten letters, containing requests for favorite foods and assurances to parents.
“Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine” wrote one boy nicknamed Tun, who added a request to get fried chicken when he got out of the cave.
“I’m fine,” wrote another. “The air is a little chilly but don’t worry. Don’t forget to set up my birthday party!”
In a joint letter, the boys said they were healthy and wanted to go home right away when they got out. They also had a special request for their teachers.
“Teacher, don’t give us lots of homework!” they wrote.
While the boys struck a brave tone, their situation remains perilous as rescue teams are racing the clock to find a way to get the team out. Heavy rains are forecast for Sunday, which could raise water levels in the flooded cave complex to a level that could make rescue impossible.
The most likely rescue scenario at the moment would be to have the team swim out using diving gear and with the help of expert divers. However, most of the boys do not know how to swim and are in weakened conditions. The conditions are also extremely difficult that swimming across would be a several hour journey — a danger highlighted when a former Thai SEAL died on Thursday while delivering air tanks to the group.
High-powered pumps have been working around the clock to drain water from the cave, and authorities on Friday estimated they have pumped out more than 35 million gallons in the past week. But water levels in the massive complex are dropping extremely slowly.
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Teams of Thai and international divers have been able to supply food, medical supplies and oxygen to the team since they were discovered last Monday, but oxygen levels remain a concern. Officials reported that the oxygen level in the chamber where the boys are located has fallen to 15 percent from a normal level of 21 percent.
More than 100 chimneys were being drilled into the mountain in an effort to find new ways to reach the boys, Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters on Saturday morning, saying some of the chimneys reached more than 1,300 feet deep.
However, the governor said they had not been able to locate the boys as they lacked the technology “to pinpoint where they are staying.”
Narongsak added that rescuers had been able to establish a line to pump in fresh air and had withdrawn some workers from inside the cave to help maintain the oxygen levels.
However, a final rescue strategy and timeline has still not been determined.
“We have to try to set a plan and find which plan is the best,” Narongsak told reporters late Friday night, adding that the impending rains may force action soon.
“If it rains and the situation is not good, we will try to bring the boys out,” he said.
Contributing: John Bacon and Charles Ventura of USA TODAY; Associated Press