CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – Thai navy divers had still to navigate their way through nearly 2 miles of dark, flooded cave passages on Sunday to reach the spot rescuers believe would give 12 missing boys and their soccer coach a better chance of survival.

Eight days into the search, there has still been no contact with the boys, aged between 11 to 16, or their 25-year-old coach since they went off after soccer practice to explore the vast Tham Luang cave complex in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Rai.

With the boys’ way out blocked by flood waters from the heavy rains, rescuers are hoping that they made it through to an elevated rock mound in one of the underground chambers far under the mountain. Cavers have nicknamed the potential safety spot “Pattaya Beach” after one of Thailand’s best-known tourist destinations.

Rear Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew, commander of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit said divers had reached “chamber three,” having been driven back by rising floodwaters when they reached the same point earlier in the week.

“From chamber three to the intersection and then onto Pattaya Beach, this area is all flooded and dark,” Apakorn told reporters. “It’s about 3 kilometers from chamber 3 to Pattaya Beach.”

Thai navy SEAL attempted to pass through the junction again, still some distance to cover b4 they can reach the elevated area “Pattaya Beach”, a strategic ground where the 12 kids and a coach are believed to be. Credit pic to the Royal Thai Navy #Thamluangcave pic.twitter.com/GVofem6dau

— Kochakorn (@KochaOlarn) June 30, 2018

The race to save the boys has dominated news bulletins, gripping the nation, and relatives of the missing children have kept up a long vigil at the mouth of the cave.

Dr Somsak Akkasilp, director-general of the Medical Services Department, said the group’s survival depended on whether they found fresh drinking water, but he was concerned about the risk of infection from unclean water, or contact with some animal inside the cave.

“They should be okay without food for eight days,” he said.

Evacuation drill was performed at least 13 times to make sure when Thai authorities find soccer team, taking them to the hospital will run smooth. Even though there is no new major lead to the group. #Thamluangcave Credit pic to Charli Sandford pic.twitter.com/33yxD6ZFwK

— Kochakorn (@KochaOlarn) June 30, 2018

Rescue teams have also been scouring thick jungle on the mountainside for alternative routes into the cave.

Helicopters were seen flying over the cave complex on Sunday morning dropping supplies to police and other rescue teams that camped there overnight.

On Saturday, members of a police search team were lowered down a 50-meter shaft drilled from the surface to the cave, but it was unclear what progress they had made.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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