Rescue workers in Thailand on Monday brought four boys safely out of a labyrinthine flooded cave complex where a 12-member soccer squad and their coach have been trapped for more than two weeks, taking the total number rescued to eight.
The mission to save all those trapped could take three or four days, officials have said, a race against the clock with heavy rain expected this week that would again flood the tunnels with fast-flowing, rising water.
“The eighth person is out and the operation is done for today,” Sitthichai Klangpattana, flag officer to Thailand’s navy SEAL commander, told The Associated Press. “Four boys were brought out today.”
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He didn’t comment on the health of the boys or how well the operation had gone.
The dramatic and dangerous rescue was launched on Sunday and four boys were brought out that day. They were in good condition in hospital, officials said.
“The rescue has been immense,” said volunteer helper Somjit Saenset, 56. “I’m so happy the children came out safely. I want to send my moral support for all involved” in the rest of the mission.
The Wild Boars soccer team and their coach, 25, got trapped on June 23 when they set out to explore the vast cave complex after soccer practice, but a rain season downpour flooded the tunnels.
British divers found the 13, huddled on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, last Monday.
Efforts to rescue the boys — aged 11 to 16 — got going again on Monday after a break to replenish oxygen supplies and make other preparations deep inside the cave complex.
The death Friday of a former Thai navy SEAL underscored the risks. The diver, the first fatality of the rescue effort, was working in a volunteer capacity and died on a mission to place air canisters along the passage to where the boys are, necessary for divers to safely travel the five- to six-hour route.
Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit are the main team guiding the boys to safety through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai navy diver on Friday.
Narongsak said more personnel were being used in the rescue on Monday.
In good health
On Sunday, divers held the first four boys close to bring them out, and each had to wear an oxygen mask to enable normal breathing, authorities said.
Narongsak said rescuers had to tighten a guide rope as part of their preparations for Monday’s operation.
After cave rescue, boys face a physical and psychological hurdle
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda told reporters the four boys rescued on Sunday were in good health in hospital but did not give details. There was no word on the condition of any of the people brought out on Monday.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha went to the cave to inspect the rescue operation, with navy rescuers giving him a rousing cheer.
Authorities have not confirmed the identity of the first four boys rescued. Some of the parents told Reuters they had not been told who had been rescued and that they were not allowed to visit the hospital.
Narongsak said the rescued boys had not been identified out of respect for the families whose sons were still trapped, adding that the boys were being kept away from their parents because of fear of infection.
“The four children are well at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital. But they still need to be kept away from their parents and others,” he said.
Police restrict access near the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/thaicaverescue?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#thaicaverescue</a>. Four more boys brought out today, for a total now of 8. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cbc</a> <a href=”https://t.co/ZEJqtAOh8E”>pic.twitter.com/ZEJqtAOh8E</a>
Medical teams previously said concerns included hypothermia and an airborne lung infection known as “cave disease,” which is caused by bat and bird droppings.
Somboon Sompiangjai, 38, the father of one of the trapped boys, said parents were told by rescuers ahead of Sunday’s operation the “strongest children” would be brought out first.
“We have not been told which child has been brought out…. We can’t visit our boys in hospital because they need to be monitored for 48 hours,” Somboon told Reuters.
“I’m hoping for good news today,” he said.
The cave complex is off-limits during the rainy season, which usually runs from May to October, when downpours can quickly flood it.
Relatives said the boys had been inside the complex during the dry season.
The president of soccer’s governing body, FIFA, has invited the boys to the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday if they make it out in time.