Relatives of Thai soccer team trapped in cave turn to spirits for help

CHIANG RAI, Thailand, June 26 (Reuters) - Distraught relatives of the teenaged members of a soccer team trapped in a flooded cave complex in Thailand turned to prayers on Tuesday as caving enthusiasts helped military rescue teams on the third day of the search.

The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, were trapped on Saturday after heavy rain flooded the cave complex in a forest park in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

Relatives placed fruits, desserts, sugary drinks and sweets on mats near the cave as an offering to the spirits which some people believe protect the cave and the forest.

"Come home," cried one distraught mother. "Mummy is here to pick you up."

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Thai soccer team trapped in cave
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JUNE 28: A giant driller is brought to the entrance of Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the effort of drilling into the mountain to find a way to approach the missing boys on June 28, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Rescuers battle heavy rain in northern Thailand as they continued the search for 12 boys and their soccer coach who has been missing in Tham Luang Nang Non cave since Saturday night after monsoon rains blocked the main entrance. Teams of Navy SEAL divers worked their way through submerged passageways in the sprawling underground caverns as senior Thai government officials warned on Wednesday that time is running out and the search intensifies for the young soccer team, aged between 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, with soldiers and park rangers seeking other entry points into the cave system. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai rescue personnel arrive at the Tham Luang cave to conduct operations to find the missing members of the children's football team in a cave chamber along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 25, 2018. - A dramatic underwater rescue mission to find a children's football team who have been trapped in a flooded cave for two days was underway in northern Thailand, officials said June 25. (Photo by Krit Phromsakla Na SAKOLNAKORN / THAI NEWS PIX / AFP) (Photo credit should read KRIT PHROMSAKLA NA SAKOLNAKORN/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members and relatives pray as they keep vigil near the Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 while rescue personnel conduct operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai rescue personnel carry oxygen tanks inside Tham Luang cave to conduct operations to find the missing members of the children's football team along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018. (Photo by Krit Phromsakla Na SAKOLNAKORN / THAI NEWS PIX / AFP) (Photo credit should read KRIT PHROMSAKLA NA SAKOLNAKORN/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai rescue personnel gather at the entrance of Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members and relatives pray at the entrance of Tham Luang cave while rescue personnel conduct operations to find the missing members of the children's football team along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province on June 26, 2018. (Photo by Krit Phromsakla Na SAKOLNAKORN / various sources / AFP) (Photo credit should read KRIT PHROMSAKLA NA SAKOLNAKORN/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members and relatives pray as they keep vigil near the Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 while rescue personnel conduct operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers carry equipment into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative shows the photograph of missing Adorn Sanorn, 14, as family members keep vigil near Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 while rescue personnel conduct operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers carry equipment into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members and relatives wait outside the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members and relatives pray close to the entrance of Tham Luang cave while rescue personnel conduct operations to find the missing members of the children's football team along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province on June 26, 2018. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members and relatives pray at the entrance of Tham Luang cave while rescue personnel conduct operations to find the missing members of the children's football team along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province on June 26, 2018. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children's football team and their coach. - Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members and relatives pray at the entrance of Tham Luang cave while rescue personnel conduct operations to find the missing members of the children's football team along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province on June 26, 2018. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Bicycles belonging to members of a children's football team, who are trapped in a cave chamber along with their coach, are seen as Thai rescue personnel (background) conduct operations under floodlights at the entrance to Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 25, 2018. - A dramatic underwater rescue mission to find a children's football team who have been trapped in a flooded cave for two days was underway in northern Thailand, officials said June 25. (Photo by Krit Promsakla Na Sakolnakorn / THAI NEWS PIX / AFP) (Photo credit should read KRIT PROMSAKLA NA SAKOLNAKORN/AFP/Getty Images)
Bicycles belonging to members of a children's football team, who are trapped in a cave chamber along with their coach, are seen as Thai rescue personnel (background) conduct operations under floodlights at the entrance to Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 25, 2018. - A dramatic underwater rescue mission to find a children's football team who have been trapped in a flooded cave for two days was underway in northern Thailand, officials said June 25. (Photo by Krit Promsakla Na Sakolnakorn / THAI NEWS PIX / AFP) (Photo credit should read KRIT PROMSAKLA NA SAKOLNAKORN/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members carrying flower offering for prayers arrive with Thai rescue personnel near the Tham Luang cave to conduct operations to find the missing members of the children's football team in a cave chamber along with their coach at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 25, 2018. - A dramatic underwater rescue mission to find a children's football team who have been trapped in a flooded cave for two days was underway in northern Thailand, officials said June 25. (Photo by Krit Phromsakla Na SAKOLNAKORN / THAI NEWS PIX / AFP) (Photo credit should read KRIT PHROMSAKLA NA SAKOLNAKORN/AFP/Getty Images)
The abandoned bicycles belonging to the missing children are seen parked together while Thai rescue personnel conduct rescue operations under floodlights, seen in the background, at the entrance of Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province on June 26, 2018 as the search continue for the 12 children and their coach. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers are seen in Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Personnel work near Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers are seen at the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers carry water pipes to the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers carry a water pump to the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JUNE 28: British cave-diver Richard William Stanton 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. Rescuers battled heavy rain in northern Thailand as they continued the search for 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been missing in Tham Luang Nang Non cave since Saturday night after monsoon rains blocked the main entrance. Teams of Navy SEAL divers worked their way through submerged passageways in the sprawling underground caverns as senior Thai government officials warned on Wednesday that time is running out and the search intensifies for the young soccer team, aged between 11 to 16, and their their 25-year-old coach, with soldiers and park rangers seeking other entry points into the cave system. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
Rescue workers are seen near Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
U.S. military personnel come out from Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
U.S. military personnel come out from Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Rescue workers bring out a family member from the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers work near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A Buddhist monk and relatives pray near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A rescue worker sits in front of the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A family member cries near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Family members pass their time near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A family member carries flowers to pray near the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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The cave network stretches 6 miles into the mountain and rescue workers believe the boys are stuck in a chamber of the network but efforts to find them have been hampered by rising waters.

Pumps have been brought in to try to drain some of the water from the cave but rain has been falling intermittently over the area.

"We must find the children today. We have hope that they are alive somewhere in there," provincial governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told Reuters.

Major General Nathawut Junhanandana, an army commander on the rescue team, said about 90 soldiers were searching the forested slopes of the mountain, looking for shafts or any other hidden ways into the caves.

"Our team is looking around the mountain for potential entrances," Nathawut told Reuters.

"This will uncover more ways, possibly, for a rescue."

Media reported that British caver Vern Unsworth, who has been inside the cave many times, had joined the search, while up to six Thai civilians who have explored the cave extensively were also helping, police at the scene told Reuters.

Thailand's Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning described Tham Luang cave as "awaiting exploration from tourists because most have had to retreat when faced with many obstacles and difficulties in the cave."

The cave is usually closed during the rainy season which runs from May to October, it said.

A sign posted near the entrance to the cave warns visitors that it is prone to flooding between July and November.

Among those waiting at the mouth of the cave for news were three team mates who skipped Saturday's expedition to the cave after soccer practice, because their parents told them to come home, media said.

"I can't concentrate at school knowing they are in there, so I came here," said Sonpong Kantawong, 14, who missed the trip because his mother drove to pick him up after soccer practice, media said.

The boys' bicycles and soccer boots were found at the mouth of the caves after they went missing. A 17-member navy unit including divers and underwater drones has joined the search.

Rescuers have covered about 4 miles of the cave network, said Damrong Hanpakdeeniyom, the head of the park, adding that visitors are usually only allowed to venture in about 700 meters (2,300 ft).

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Robert Birsel)

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