US forces, British divers join search for boys missing in Thai cave

CHIANG RAI, June 28 (Reuters) - U.S. forces and British divers have arrived in Thailand to help in the search for 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach believed trapped by floodwaters in a cave, as rescuers prepared to drill a shaft into the cave on the fifth day of the search.

Major Buncha Duriyapan, commander of the 37th Military District in Chiang Rai, said workers would drill down from the top of the Tham Luang cave complex in northern Chiang Rai province to create an alternative entrance for rescue workers.

"We will drill down from one of the chimneys," Buncha told reporters on Thursday.

"The expert divers went straight from the plane into the cave to make an assessment," he said, referring to the three British divers who landed in Thailand on Wednesday.

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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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Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said 30 members of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) have joined the search operation.

"The United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) has sent 30 staff with equipment to help penetrate the cave walls," Prawit told reporters.

Search efforts, which have included Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit, have been hampered by heavy rain and flooding inside the cave where the boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach went missing on Saturday.

Rescue workers on Thursday scoured the top of the mountain looking for alternative entrances to the cave, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

Thai National Deputy Police Chief Wirachai Songmetta said police officers would explore a one kms path to the right of the cave on Thursday.

So far, rescue teams have been focusing on a four mile long route to the left of the cave's entrance which they believe the boys and their coach took.

Authorities say they're optimistic the boys are still alive, but the toll of five days of no news was visible on the faces of the boys' relatives.

Family members, red-eyed from crying, said prayers on Thursday near the cave, led by a saffron-robed Buddhist monk.

"Observe your breath in this place of love. Love between mother, father and child," the monk told anxious relatives.

"Do not worry and wait for good news."

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat Editing by Michael Perry)

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