Rescue mission under way to free boys inside Thai cave

Lynette PayneJul 09, 2018

His announcement, at a news conference more than an hour after helicopters and ambulances were seen rushing from the cave area, drew cheers and applause.

The first four boys to be rescued were led out of the cave by an global team of rescue divers on Sunday.

Mission chief Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former governor of Chiang Rai province, said restarting the mission went faster than they had expected.

The rescue mission has faced a ideal storm of obstacles since it began, including monsoonal rains, a lack of oxygen in the cave and the fact that numerous boys trapped inside don't know how to swim let alone dive.

He said it's expected to take many hours - and could take days - for all 12 boys and their coach to emerge. Nine people remain trapped in the cave.

The plight of the group has transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, as authorities struggled to locate them and then devise a plan to get the boys and their coach out.

"If we wait and the rain comes in the next few days we will be exhausted again from pumping and our readiness would drop".

Authorities have not confirmed the identity of the first four boys freed.

The operation to rescue the remaining eight boys - some as young as 11 and weak swimmers - and the coach was called off at nightfall until Monday to give the divers time to replenish oxygen supplies and ensure all preparations were complete.

The entire operation to get all 13 out of the cave could last 2-4 days, depending on weather and water conditions, said army Maj. "The children complained that they were hungry and wanted holy basil stir-fried rice", he said.

Still, the four were undergoing medical checks in a hospital in the provincial capital and were not yet allowed close contact with relatives due to fear of infections.

Thais have been fixated on the crisis, hoping desperately for the safe return of the boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, since they became trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex on June 23 because of rising waters.

The search and rescue operation has riveted people both in Thailand and internationally, with journalists from across the globe travelling to this town along the border with Myanmar to report on the ordeal.

The cave system, in a limestone mountain range bordering Myanmar in northern Thailand, has proven to be a formidable challenge for the worldwide rescue coalition drawing some of the world's best divers who have volunteered to help in the operation alongside Thai Navy SEALs.

On Sunday four members of the "Wild Boar" team were successfully brought out from the cave, after authorities decided they had to rush ahead with a rescue operation to beat monsoon rains.

Another classmate, Monthip Yodkham, shared with The Washington Post messages on his phone exchanged in a Line group chat among his friends, which include members of the same soccer team. Those conditions won't last if the rain resumes, he said.

In all, 13 foreign divers and five Thai SEALS are involved in the rescue, which requires a treacherous, 2.4-mile journey through the cave complex. New oxygen tanks were being placed before the second stage of the rescue effort began.

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