Mae Sai, Thailand - Thailand's prime minister on Friday visited the flooded cave complex where rescuers have been searching for 12 boys and their soccer coach missing for six days and urged their relatives to not give up hope.
"There has to be faith. Faith makes everything a success," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the country's military ruler, told families waiting outside the cave. "Faith in the actions of officials. Faith in our children who are strong and vigorous. Everything will go back to normal."
The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their coach entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave after a soccer game on Saturday afternoon, but near-constant rains in the days since have thwarted the search for them. Authorities have nevertheless expressed hope the group has found dry places within the cave to wait, and that they are healthy enough to stay safe.
Muddy floodwaters reached near the entrance of the cave Friday despite days of efforts to drain the water. Rescuers kept working outside the cave, trying to find hidden shafts in the green mountainside to access different parts of the sprawling underground complex.
Crews were also working to drill wells that could drain the water, which would allow divers to advance into passages filled with water at or near their ceilings. Despite the hard work, rescuers' progress was fitful at best, with no guarantee the water will soon recede with months left in Thailand's rainy season.
The governor of Chiang Rai, the northern province where the cave is located, thanked people in Thailand and abroad for sending their support, including a U.S. military rescue team and U.K. cave divers.
"We will keep our effort up no matter how tired we are," Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said.
He said Thai navy SEAL divers had been able to work underwater Thursday but would not elaborate on their progress. The divers have oxygen tanks but still must have enough space between the water and ceiling to surface for air, to ensure their safety in the muddy waters that fill rocky passages, some so tight the divers must bend their bodies to advance through them.
Above ground, four shafts have been located that may allow access into the cave and rescuers were continuing to explore those shafts Friday, Narongsak said.
The team trying to find a way to drain the water dug until 1 a.m. to a depth of 30 meters (98 feet) but did not find any wells, said Ekchawin Longpinit from the Thai Underground Water Department. About a dozen workers were drilling at the same spot Friday morning. "We will continue to drill today, and more drill equipment is being sent so we can also explore" more spots to drill, Ekchawin said.