Thai soldiers walk as rescuers carry drainpipe while heading to the cave during the ongoing rescue operations for the child soccer team and their assistant coach, at Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, Chiang Rai province, Thailand, on Wednesday. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE
July 5 (UPI) -- Rescuers trying to free 12 boys and their soccer coach in a flooded Thailand cave are racing to get the water pumped and the children freed before more rain arrives.
Two British volunteer divers found the missing boys Monday after a nine-day search. Seven members of Thailand's navy, including two medics, are working with the pair to free the boys.
Torrential rains expected Sunday could force more water into the pocket where they're stranded, on a rock shelf about 2.5 miles from the cave entrance. Rescuers are trying to lower the level enough and get the children out before then.
"What we worry about most is the weather," Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn told reporters. "We can't risk having the flood back into the cave."
Osotthanakorn said officials are calculating how much time is left if it rains, "how many hours and days."
The cave complex regularly floods until September or October, meaning it's possible the boys could be trapped for months.
The water had been reduced by 40 percent the last few days, clearing part of the chamber. Officials hope they can get enough water out so the boys can walk out wearing life jackets, said an official with Thailand's interior ministry.
Officials say most, if not all, the boys don't know how to swim. At a news conference Wednesday, Osatanakorn said they've been practicing diving procedures and breathing.
Diving out would be risky. It takes experienced divers about 3 hours from the cave entrance to reach the team, the British Cave Rescue Council said.
"There's air pockets along the way," said Gary Mitchell, the group's assistant vice chairman. "It's confined spaces. It's almost zero visibility. There's currents to battle against in places as well. So it's a really quite a strenuous environment to be in."
The boys have received medical care and foil warming blankets, and were able to send messages to their families to let them know they're in "good health."
A medic who's evaluated their conditions said Thursday the boys and their coach are malnourished and exhausted -- not well enough for an immediate extraction.
Mario Sepulveda, one of the Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months in 2010, sent a message of encouragement to the boys and their coach.
"We are praying for each of you," he said.
Sepulveda was one of 33 miners rescued after spending 69 days trapped more than 2,000 feet underground.