Update at 11:40 a.m.: After rescuing four of the 12 Thai schoolboys and their coach who have been trapped in a cave for more than two weeks, officials said they would put the dangerous mission on hold for at least 10 hours to prepare for the next phase. In part the extra time is needed to allow oxygen tanks to be refilled.
“Today we managed to rescue and send back four children to Chiang Rai Prachanukrua Hospital safely,” the head of the rescue effort, Narongsak Osottanakorn, said at a news conference. “It’s a big success of all teams. We have thousands of people helping us with the operation.”
At the news conference, Narongsak confirmed that the four boys who were rescued wore full face masks and the divers who rescued them carried them out. “Today, everything was very smooth,” he said. “We have been practicing for the past three to four days, rain or shine.” The rescue effort went quicker than authorities had been expecting but officials still said it could take anywhere from two to four days to get everyone out.
Although officials have yet to identify those who were rescued, doctors assessed the health of the boys on Saturday and wrote out a priority list so the weakest ones would get out first. Overall, a total of 90 divers were involved in Sunday’s operation, 50 foreigners and 40 Thais.
Original post at 9:23 a.m.: The first bits of good news started trickling out of Thailand on Sunday morning amid reports that the first couple of schoolboys were rescued from a flooded cave thanks to a daring and highly dangerous mission. The Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page reported that four members of the soccer team that has been trapped for more than two weeks are now out of the cave.
The good news came several hours after authorities launched the rescue operation with 13 foreign divers and five members of Thailand’s elite Navy SEAL unit. “Today we are most ready,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the head of the joint command center coordinating the rescue. “Today is D-Day.” The plan was for two divers to accompany each child in a mission that would continue at least until Monday and could take as long as three to four days depending on weather.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach will have to navigate dark and tight passages inside the cave with muddy waters and strong currents. The rescue team had been practicing the operation for a few days and managed to lower the water levels in the cave. Although not completely dry, the path from where the boys were to the staging area of the operation was largely walkable. The journey from where the boys are to the entrance of the cave takes about 11 hours.
Although the conditions are still treacherous, there were growing fears that rain in the next few days could make the situation even more dangerous. Authorities had said that they felt they only had a window of a few days to get the boys out of the cave before rains threatened to seal them inside for months. An Australian doctor who has lots of cave-diving experience, examined the boys and gave the go-ahead for them to participate in the operation.
The rescue mission came a day after the boys sounded “calm and reassuring,” as the AP puts it, in handwritten notes that were delivered to their families and made public Saturday. “Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine. I’ve told Yod to get ready to take me out for fried chicken. With love,” wrote one of the boys. Another alluded to the difficult conditions the boys were in but was still optimistic: “I’m doing fine, but the air is a little cold, but don’t worry. Although, don’t forget to set up my birthday party.”
President Donald Trump took to Twitter Sunday morning to note that the United States is helping out in the rescue operation. “The U.S. is working very closely with the Government of Thailand to help get all of the children out of the cave and to safety,” he wrote.