A THIRD of the Thai schoolboys trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand were rescued on Sunday as audiences around the world watched on anxiously.
At least 13 foreign divers and five members of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit launched a daring and dangerous mission to save the boys on Sunday, guiding four to safety through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai navy diver on Friday.
— Asjad Nazir (@asjadnazir) July 8, 2018
According to head of the rescue operation Narongsak Osottanakorn, the effort had been a success thus far. “The operation today was more successful than we earlier expected,” he said as quoted by the Bangkok Post.
“Today is D-Day,” Narongsak had earlier told reporters.
As night fell, the operation to rescue the remaining eight boys – some as young as 11 and weak swimmers – and their coach was called off until Monday morning. “Good night and have a sweet dream,” the Thai navy SEALs posted to their Facebook page.
“Today we managed to rescue and send back four children to Chiang Rai Prachanukrua Hospital safely,” Narongsok told a news conference. “… It’s a big success of all teams. We have thousands of people helping us with the operation.”
The rescue teams now needed at least 10 hours to prepare for their next operation, involving about 90 divers in total, 50 of them from foreign countries, he said.
A helicopter flew the four boys to the nearby city of Chiang Rai, where they were taken by ambulance to hospital. Having been stuck in the cave for two weeks, health concerns include dehydration, malnutrition and post-traumatic stress.
Thirteen medical teams were stationed outside the cave on Sunday – each with its own helicopter and ambulance – one for each of 12 boys and their coach.
— Howard Johnson (@Howardrjohnson) July 8, 2018
A source at the Chiang Rai hospital said that five emergency response doctors were awaiting the boys and a further 30 doctors were on stand-by.
“The teams here are happy the boys are being rescued but also anxious about the severity of the boys’ conditions. We’re under a lot of pressure,” she said, declining to be named because she was not allowed to speak to the media.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after soccer practice on June 23, setting out on an adventure to explore the cave complex near the border with Burma (Myanmar) and celebrate a boy’s birthday.
Their ordeal has drawn huge media attention in Thailand and abroad, and getting the boys out safely could be a boost for Thailand’s junta ahead of a general election next year.
“These #Divers are #Heroes for the ages,” wrote one excited netizen.
Overjoyed to see FOUR of the boys in the cave in Thailand be rescued to safety! 9 more and the coach to go. Haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since I heard pic.twitter.com/TgKE3AJQOY
— (((abby q))) (@itsabbyyyyy) July 8, 2018
— elli afxentiou (@elliafxentiou) July 8, 2018
Bursts of heavy monsoon rain soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai province on Sunday and storms were expected in the coming weeks, increasing the risks in what has been called a “war with water and time” to save the team.
The rescue teams had rehearsed the plan for several days, Narongsak said, and had managed to drain the water level in the cave considerably, but needed to move fast.
“If we wait and the rain comes in the next few days we will be tired again from pumping and our readiness would drop. If that’s the case, then we have to reassess the situation,” he said.
“We can only carry on the operation once we are ready and this will be done soon, because the air tank and other systems have to be reinstalled,” he told reporters later.
“We have used it all… Once the team are ready, they will do so immediately. I can’t give you an exact number but it should be more than 10 hours but not exceeding 20 hours. The conditions must be stable like today before we can continue the operation.”
An Australian doctor who is part of the rescue mission checked the health of the boys on Saturday night and gave the all-clear for the operation to proceed. The boys were discovered by British divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen on Monday.
Of the 13-strong foreign dive team – mainly from Europe – three escorted the children, while the remainder were positioned along the dangerous first kilometre stretch, where the boys had to navigate through submerged passageways in some places no more than half a metre wide.
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. Very brave and talented people!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 8, 2018
According to a press release from the joint command centre, there were additional rescue personnel from Thailand, the US, Australia, China and Europe on standby.
“Based on the complexity and difficulty of the cave environment it is unknown how long it might takeand how many children would exit the cave,” it added.
Additional reporting from Reuters.