Thai cave rescue: Operation resumes for boys still trapped inside cave
(CNN) — The rescue operation to remove eight Thai boys and their coach who are still trapped inside a cave in northern Thailand has resumed, according to the mission commander.
At a press conference, former Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn said that Monday’s mission involved largely the same divers — with a “few swapped out” — who carried out Sunday’s treacherous operation, which took nine hours and led to the rescue of four boys.
The second attempt at evacuations started at 11 a.m. local time (12 a.m. ET) after rescue workers got some rest and refilled supplies,
“We hope to hear good news soon,” Osotthanakorn said.
In preparation for receiving more of the trapped boys, five ambulances were seen driving toward the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, and at least one helicopter was also seen heading towards the cave entrance.
It’s been almost 24 hours since a joint Thai-international rescue team successfully navigated flooded, narrow tunnels to bring out four members of the Wild Boars youth soccer team who went missing in the cave complex on June 23.
Officials said late Sunday they’d need to pause the operation for at least 10 hours to fill oxygen tanks that had been depleted during the first phase of the rescue mission.
The four boys rescued are recovering in a nearby hospital and are yet to see their parents. A family member told CNN Monday that they hadn’t been told which boys had been pulled out, and who is still trapped in the cave.
A relative of one of the Wild Boars soccer team says that the boys’ families have agreed to remain at the cave site until all of the boys and the coach are brought out of the cave.
Authorities have refused to confirm names reported in local media, but in the small town of Mae Sai where the cave is located, it’s all anybody is talking about it, along with when the second search will start.
Mission paused for oxygen
Officials said Sunday that it may “take days” to bring all 12 boys and their coach to the surface. Each boy is being accompanied by two divers and it takes hours to negotiate the flooded tunnels through the dark, murky water.
Those still inside the cave are perched on a small muddy ledge 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), surrounded by floodwater and with a limited supply of oxygen.
The most dangerous part of the journey out of the labyrinth cave system is the first kilometer, in which they are required to squeeze through a narrow flooded channel.
During this process, rescuers need to hold the boys’ oxygen tanks in front of them and swim pencil-like through submerged holes. Having completed this section, the boys are then handed over to separate, specialist rescue teams, who help assist them through the remainder of the cave, much of which they can wade through.
Rescuers are racing to beat the next downpour which could further complicate efforts to remove the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach.
Rain began to fall late Sunday, and more rain is forecast throughout the coming days, which could undo ongoing efforts to drain the flooded caverns where the other boys remain trapped. On Monday, skies were largely clear over the site but rain has been forecast for at least the next three days.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was due to arrive at the site Monday to oversee the remainder of the operation, according to government spokesman Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkumnerd.
‘A very smooth operation’
The boys who were pulled from the cave late Sunday are recovering from their ordeal in a newly converted isolation ward at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital.
Osotthanakorn said the rescued boys would stay isolated to ensure that they were healthy, but that they had a strong appetite, and were asking for a Thai dish of beef with basil and chili.
“This morning they said they are hungry, and they wanted Phad Kra Pao,” he said. “We have to quarantine them for a little while due to fear of infection.”
Doctors are monitoring them for any illnesses they may have picked up in the cave, and supervising efforts to build up their strength after more than two weeks with little food and no natural light.
“The next step is to make sure those kids and their families are safe because living in cave has a different environment which might contains animals that could transmit any disease,” a hospital statement said.
Thailand’s Health Secretary said last week that on arrival at hospital the boys would need to be quarantined for one to two days before being allowed to see their families. Visitors would need to wear sanitized clothes and stay two meters away from the children.
Late Sunday, nine hours after they entered the cave, elite divers emerged carrying four teenage soccer players who were quickly transferred to waiting ambulances to be taken to hospitals.
The cave rescued mission went faster than practice drills over the last few days, according to Osotthanakorn. Previously, the entire round trip through the cave network was thought to take about 11 hours.
While the governor would not confirm the identities of the four boys, he said the first one emerged at 5:40 p.m. local time (6.40 a.m. ET), followed by the second boy 10 minutes later. Two other boys came out at 7:40 p.m. and 7:50 p.m.
Shortly after, ambulances were seen racing towards the nearby city of Chiang Rai down roads that had been cleared of traffic to smooth the journey. Onlookers were seen watched and cheering as they drove by.
Twelve boys and their coach were discovered four kilometers into the cave complex by two British divers on July 2, nine days after they abandoned their bicycles and ventured inside only to become trapped by flood water.
The rescue mission has been a huge operation, led by the Royal Thai Navy’s SEAL unit, and supported by a cast of hundreds.
Among those are US military partners, British cave diving experts — including the two men who first located the boys a week ago — and rescue workers from Australia, China and other countries.
US Embassy Bangkok spokesman Steve Castonguay said that “The US will remain here to continue to support this operation until all the soccer players and their coach have been rescued.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in an interview with CNN affiliate Nine News Australia Monday, said that the remainder of the boys were also expected to be extracted in batches.
“Next couple of evacuations, I think they are going to bring the boys out in groups of four, so there will be two more groups, plus the soccer coach of course.”
Speculation about the identities of the four boys who have been successfully evacuated from the cave is rife in the surrounding areas.
Students and teachers at the Mae Sai Prasitsart School, where several of the missing boys attend, excitedly waited for news of their classmates.
While the morning gathering is usually held outside, intermittent rain meant they stayed indoors this Monday and prayed in their classrooms.
Speaking to rows of children lined up for morning assembly in a sports hall at the school, Cherdchu Thungpanya, the school’s assistant principal, gave some updates.
“The good news is we had four (team members) out last night,” he said, over the school’s public address system. “Nine are still in the cave.”
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