Thai rescuers yesterday said they may be prodded into a complex extraction of 12 boys and their football coach from a flooded cave if forecast rains hammer the mountainside and jeopardise the rescue mission.
Thirteen sets of diving equipment have been prepared for the team, who have endured 12 nights underground in the Tham Luang cave complex in northern Thailand, a saga that has transfixed a nation and united Thais in prayers for their safe return.
Water is being pumped out from the deluged cave round-the-clock, reducing the flooding by one centimetre an hour.
But with rain forecast to begin on Friday, the Chiang Rai provincial governor helming the unprecedented rescue effort conceded the mission was now "a race against the water".
"Our biggest concern is the weather. We are calculating how much time we have if it rains, how many hours and days," Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters, without providing further details.
In a sign of increased urgency, Narongsak said medics and Thai Navy SEAL divers are assessing whether the boys are fit and well enough to be taken out early -- apparently softening his instance on Wednesday that "no risk" will be taken with the evacuation.
The prospect of the stranded "Wild Boar" team diving out is fraught with risk.