cave, dark, rescue gear
Royal Thai Navy

Divers in northern Thailand on Sunday rescued four members of a youth soccer team from the Thailand cave where they were trapped for 16 days, part of an ongoing operation to rescue the 12 boys and their coach. Officials said it could take two to four days complete the mission. The Thai navy SEALs say two were transported by ambulance from the cave, one of whom was airlifted in a helicopter.

Trapped in a Thailand Cave

The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice game. Monsoon flooding blocked off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.

The four boys were brought out and taken to the hospital in the town of Chiang Rai, the provincial capital, for evaluation

On Friday, the death of a former Thai navy SEAL underscored the risks. The diver, the first fatality of the rescue effort, was working in a volunteer capacity. He died on a mission to place oxygen canisters along the route.

More Rain Predicted

Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said Saturday that mild weather and falling water levels in recent days had created the “perfect” conditions for an underwater evacuation. Those conditions won’t last if the rain resumes, he said. “Today was the best situation – in terms of kids’ health, water and our rescue readiness,” Narongsak Osatanakorn, the head of the joint command centre coordinating the rescue, said at a press briefing on Sunday.

Heavy rain started falling as soon as the four boys were removed from the cave. Narongsak said experts told him the new rain could shrink the unflooded space where the boys are sheltering to 108 square feet.

Next Phase

A Thai official says the next phase of the operation to rescue the rest of the trapped boys will begin in 10 to 20 hours as rescuers replenish their oxygen tanks. Two divers were assigned to each child to help them navigate the dangerous, narrow passageways. The next phase could start Monday after rescue teams replenish the supply of oxygen tanks along the route to ensure the safety of the journey, which takes several hours.

Speaking to reporters at a briefing near the cave on Sunday night, Chiang Rai provincial acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said the healthiest boys were taken out first, with the first two emerging at 5:40 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. local time, or 6:40 a.m. ET. Two others were brought out about two hours later.

Narongsak said the operation was going “better than expected.” The four freed boys have been transported to the hospital, where they will be reunited with their families. Their condition was not known.

The SEALs say five of the 18 rescue divers were Thai, with American, Australian and Japanese divers assisting in the effort.

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